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: March 25, 2019

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Tsinghua University

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 25, 2019, Tsinghua University (THU) suspended constitutional law professor Xu Zhangrun and placed him under investigation after he published a series of essays critical of China’s Communist party leadership.

In July 2018, Xu published an essay that warned of deepening repression in China. The essay attracted wide attention in China and Xu continued to publish essays critical of the government.

Xu has reported that on March 25, 2019, he began to receive a series of phone messages from THU officials ordering him to stop teaching and researching, indicating that his pay would be cut, and informing him that a THU “work team” would investigate him and the essays he had published since July. Xu has also reported being questioned for one and a half hours by THU officials.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about disciplinary actions against a scholar in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression and academic freedom—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. University authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with academic freedom or expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Retaliation intended to punish such expressive activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.

UPDATE: On March 29, 2019, it was reported that Xu had been banned from teaching and had other academic responsibilities revoked. Reports do not indicate when, if ever, the ban will expire.

In April 2019, it was reported that Xu is apparently barred from leaving the country. One source indicates that border officials prevented Xu from boarding a flight to Japan.