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 26, 2021

Attack Types: Travel Restrictions | Other

Institution(s):Newcastle University

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 26, 2021, Chinese authorities announced sanctions against ten individuals and institutions in the United Kingdom (UK), including Jo Smith Finley, Reader in Chinese Studies at Newcastle University. Finley appears to have been targeted for her research activities.

The sanctions came four days after China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced sanctions targeting individuals and entities in the European Union (EU), including two scholars and an academic think tank (see report). They appear to be in retaliation for separate sanctions ordered by both the UK and EU over human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

Finley appears to have been targeted for her academic activities, which includes research on the aforementioned human rights issues in the XUAR, political “re-education, and Uyghur identity. Other individuals sanctioned include parliamentarians, lawyers, and other political figures.

According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, those targeted by the sanctions “maliciously spread lies and disinformation.” Chinese authorities have not provided an evidentiary basis for the allegations.

Individuals targeted in the order, as well as their families, are barred entry to China, and any assets they hold in China will be frozen. Further, Chinese citizens and entities are prohibited from “having dealings” with those individuals and institutions named in the sanctions order, and any companies and institutions associated with them.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of politically-motivated sanctions against a scholar and others, in order to, in part, restrict academic activity and the peaceful exchange of ideas — conduct that is expressly protected by 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 an obligation to restrict academic travel based on political considerations and should refrain from other actions intended to retaliate against scholars, their families, and academic institutions. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such efforts undermine academic freedom and the international exchange of ideas.