SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: January 21, 2019

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Peking University | Renmin University

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On January 21, 2019, Chinese authorities reportedly detained seven student activists from Peking University and Renmin University in apparent retaliation for nonviolent expressive activities.

The students are reportedly Maoist activists who have been engaged in public advocacy efforts supporting Jasic Technology factory workers. Since August 2018, student activists at prominent Chinese universities launched Jasic Workers Support Group (JWSG), a solidarity initiative with factory workers at Jasic Technology aimed at establishing an independent trade union and protesting the alleged mistreatment of the factory workers. That same month, fifty JWSG members were detained in Shenzhen during solidarity protests with the Jasic Technology workers. While many of the students were released after a few days, some are still reportedly in custody (see report). On November 9, police officers detained at least nine recent graduates of Chinese universities for supporting factory workers (see report).

On January 21, students reported online that students were being forced to watch videos of detained student activists allegedly confessing to “spread[ing] false information and violat[ing] the law.” In the videotapes, detained Maoist activists reportedly denounced their actions. Activists featured in the videos reportedly include Yue Xin, a PKU graduate and #MeToo activist and Shen Mengyu, a recent graduate and JWSG leader from Sun Yat-sen University, among others.

Shortly after students reported on the forced watch sessions, police reportedly conducted house-to-house searches and detained seven students. Information regarding the students’ whereabouts and whether they face charges is unavailable as of this report.

Scholars at Risk is concerned concerned about the arbitrary detention of student-activists in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association — 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 must refrain from restricting or otherwise interfering in the nonviolent exercise of such rights. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.