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: October 15, 2019

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Finnish Meteorological Institute

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 15, 2019, Chinese authorities reportedly detained Wang Zhan (王展), a postdoctoral researcher in meteorology at the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI), apparently based on alleged online expression.

According to Chinese-language media sources, authorities detained Wang upon his entry to China for a personal visit. He was then transferred to a detention center in Shenyang. Authorities are reportedly holding Wang for “subversion of state power;” however, they have not publicly confirmed this nor have they disclosed the evidentiary basis for Wang’s detention. Media sources as well as a website advocating for his release speculate that Wang was targeted for alleged online expression advocating for the independence of Manchuria, areas of Northeastern China that fell under various states’ control during the first half of the twentieth century. If convicted on a charge of “subverting state power,” Wang could face up to ten years’ imprisonment.

Wang has worked at the FMI since February 2019, according to his LinkedIn account. He reportedly specializes in terrestrial modeling, vegetation dynamics, and climate studies.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention and incarceration of a scholar in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting, retaliating against, or otherwise interfering with the nonviolent exercise of freedom of expression. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.

Correction: An earlier version of this report first named Wang Zhan as “Zhan Wang.”