On November 1, 2018, Chinese authorities reportedly prevented two scholars, Sheng Hong and Jiang Hao, from leaving the country to attend an academic seminar at Harvard University, purportedly on national security grounds.
Sheng, the executive director of the Unirule Institute of Economics, and Jiang, a researcher and Unirule’s acting deputy director, were at Beijing Capital International Airport en route to a seminar at Harvard, when authorities reportedly informed them that they would not be permitted to leave the country, claiming that their attendance at the seminar represented a threat to national security.
The authorities apparently provided no further explanation for the decision. Unirule has reportedly faced significant government pressures recently, including having its website shut down, and the deletion of social media accounts belonging to several of its members. The seminar commemorated the 40th anniversary of the economic reforms introduced by China’s former premiere, Deng Xiaoping.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about restrictions on travel apparently intended to limit the international exchange of ideas — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory. State authorities have a responsibility to protect academic freedom and not to interfere with the international exchange of ideas, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, travel restrictions limiting academic content or conduct have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.