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: April 30, 2019

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment

Institution(s):Peking University

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 30, 2019, it was reported that five Peking University (PKU) students went missing in advance of International Labor Day activities. As of this report, they are suspected of being held by authorities.

The students are reportedly Maoist activists and former members of PKU’s Marxist Society who have been engaged in public, pro-labor advocacy. Authorities had arrested one of the students, Marxist society leader Qiu Zhanxuan, in December 2018 (see report); PKU then effectively dissolved the society, replacing several of its members, including Qiu, with members of the Communist Youth League or Communist Party (see report).

Qiu, Jiao Baizhen, Sun Jiayan, Li Ziyi, and Wang Yushu traveled to the Yizhuang Industrial Park in the outskirts of Beijing to work alongside workers on International Labor Day holiday. On April 29, Qiu reportedly posted images of six men he alleged were police officers dressed in plainclothes, following the group. Shortly thereafter, Qiu stopped posting and all students’ phones were turned off. On April 30, an activist group connected to the students announced their disappearance.

On May 6, it was reported that a video and written testimony of Qiu were published and circulated online. In the testimony, Qiu alleges that police tormented him over five days in late February. Qiu said that he was strip-searched, forced to listen to President Xi Jinping’s speech from the 19th Communist Party’s Congress on high volume, and pressured to pledge to “voluntarily give up all educational opportunities.” It appears the testimony was recorded before his disappearance in April. Information regarding the students’ whereabouts and whether they face any charges is unavailable as of this report.

Scholars at Risk is 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.