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 15, 2021

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Chinese University of Hong Kong | University of Hong Kong

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 15, 2021, Chinese state media published reports of investigations into three mainland students in apparent relation to their nonviolent expressive activity, including their support of Hong Kong’s 2019 pro-democracy protests. Authorities reportedly arrested two of the students.

Starting in April 2019, Hong Kong was engulfed in protests, first sparked by controversial legislation (later withdrawn) and, over time, in response to the leadership of Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam; excessive force and other actions of the Hong Kong police; and concerns that democratic society is shrinking in Hong Kong. University students and other young Hong Kongers, including secondary school students, were at the forefront of the largely peaceful protest movement.

The Global Times and Legal Daily — two Chinese state run newspapers — published articles detailing the cases of the three students, Tian Mou, Chen Moumou, and Yang Moumou. Tian, a journalism student at a college in Hebei, reportedly worked as a Beijing-based intern for a foreign media outlet. In June 2019, Chinese authorities reportedly arrested Tian on a charge of endangering national security. They accuse Tian of sharing opposition promotional material overseas, creating an “anti-China website,” and liaising with opposition groups abroad who instructed Tian to gather evidence to smear China.

Chen, a postgraduate student at Chinese University of Hong Kong, allegedly published social media posts in support of the pro-democracy protests. In May 2020, authorities reportedly investigated Chen. Global Times and Legal Daily report that Chen confessed to supporting opposition groups and wrote letters of remorse. According to the state media sites, Yang, a postgraduate film student at the University of Hong Kong, participated in the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. In June 2020, authorities arrested Yang for subverting the state and participating in “anti-China” activities.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about police investigations and arrests in response to nonviolent student expression — 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 a responsibility to abstain from restricting or retaliating against nonviolent student expression. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.