We write you this letter to express our concern over the state of academic freedom in China. Ongoing cases of arrest, imprisonment, and harassment, some of which we indicate below, point to a disturbing record of threats to scholars and students in your country. We want to highlight some of the worst cases here, and request that your government take action to ensure that China is a safe environment for academic freedom and the peaceful expression of dissent.
According to reports on December 11, 2012, Professor Wang Peijian, a professor of law at China Jiliang University in Hangzhou, had his classes suspended and was forced by university security personnel to enter a psychiatric facility after speaking with his students about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. According to a report from China Human Rights Defenders, “Wang believed that this was because he had spoken to students about his views on, among other topics, the Chinese Communist Party’s monopoly on power, the 1989 massacre around Tiananmen Square, and suppression of human rights lawyers.” We call on China to put an end to involuntary commitment to psychiatric facilities, to investigate Professor Wang’s case, and to ensure his fair treatment and release.
During October and November 2012, economics professor and prominent Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti faced harassment from police and was forced to leave Beijing for the duration of a meeting of top-level government officials. He was brought by police to Urumqi, where he was then told by authorities he could not stay. He then was brought to his hometown of Atush, where he was forced to remain in his home under police surveillance and could not receive visitors without their first being interrogated by police.
Writer and editor Tashi Rabten (pen name Te’urang), sentenced to four years’ imprisonment on June 2, 2011, remains in prison for his critical political writings. He was arrested on April 6, 2010, and detained without charge until the trial, which took place behind closed doors.
Liu Xiaobo, a human rights activist and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, remains imprisoned, and Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, was placed under house arrest without charge. Liu was arrested on December 8, 2008, on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” after coauthoring Charter 08, a declaration initially signed by over 300 individuals that outlines political reforms and calls for greater human rights and democracy in China.
Guo Quan, a former literature professor at Nanjing Normal University, remains in prison on charges of “inciting subversion of state power.” Guo was arrested on May 17, 2008, apparently as a result of his articles criticizing the government response to the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan Province. He was released shortly thereafter, but rearrested on November 13, 2008, on the basis of online articles he had published and for founding the opposition China New Democracy Party. After being found guilty Guo was sentenced, October 16, 2009, to ten years in prison and three years of deprivation of political rights.
The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, states that everyone has the right “freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory, states that "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice." We urge the Chinese government to take the necessary steps to ensure an environment of academic freedom and to release these and other scholars who have been imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their views.
We welcome your comments on the issues raised in this letter.