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: August 26, 2021

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):University of Hong Kong

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 26, authorities detained Fang Ran, a PhD candidate in the sociology department of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), and accused him of incitement to subvert state power. 

Fang researches labor movement empowerment in mainland China, according to his profile on HKU’s website. Prior to his detention, Fang had reportedly been studying conditions at factories in Shenzhen. Fang was reportedly a loyal Communist Party member since 2013.

In June 2021, state security agents confiscated Fang’s phone, computer, and ID card, and questioned him. After at least one day of questioning, the agents returned Fang’s belongings to him and let him go.

On August 26, police allegedly called Fang to the station to retrieve his computer and phone while he was in his hometown of Nanning, in China’s Guangxi Province. On August 31, a social media account that apparently belongs to Fang’s father commented that Fang had not been free from state custody since reporting to the police station on August 26. Agents from the Ministry of State Security are reportedly holding Fang under “residential surveillance at a designated location,” a form of detention outside state facilities that allows authorities to deny detainees access to legal counsel, and accused him of incitement to ­subvert state power. The basis for the accusation against Fang remains unclear.

Following the arrest, HKU stated that it was actively looking into the matter and would “provide assistance to Mr. Fang and his family where appropriate.” As of this report, Fang remains in state custody.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the incommunicado detention of a student. Absent additional information, the detention of Fang appears to have been in connection with his nonviolent exercise of the rights to academic freedom and freedom of 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 an obligation to refrain from retaliating against the nonviolent exercise of the right to academic freedom and freedom of expression. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, the arrest and incommunicado detention of a student in apparent connection with their academic or expressive activities undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.