Chinese Government: Stop the Crackdown on Dissident Professor Xu Zhangrun 许章润

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Read in Chinese. 阅读中文版。

Professor Xu Zhangrun works as a jurist at Tsinghua, China’s premier university. In 2018, when the Chinese people were enraged by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime’s authoritarian regression, Prof. Xu wrote outspoken articles of rebuttal at a time many feared to speak out. His most influential article, Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes 我们当下的恐惧与期待, powerfully criticized Pres. Xi Jinping and went viral in China when published in July. In retaliation, the CCP commanded Tsinghua University in March 2019 to completely suspend and investigate Prof. Xu. In China, academia falls entirely under the CCP’s authoritarian control, and Tsinghua is no exception. Given the CCP’s tightening grip on dissent under Xi and its criminal human rights record, Prof. Xu now risks persecution, torture or even death if the “investigation” on him escalates. Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate who prominently advocated China’s democratization, died in prison in 2017 from liver cancer; no one can be sure if a similar fate awaits Prof. Xu. The current crackdown on him deserves significant international attention since the CCP may very well torture or murder him.

The CCP’s crackdown on dissent also threatens global academic freedom. Because Tsinghua established important partnerships with academia abroad, the CCP can export its clasp on free speech globally by manipulating these partner institutions. Currently, both Brookings and Carnegie Endowment has foreign offices inside Tsinghua. Tsinghua’s international MA program Schwarzman Scholars also recruits American students every year. The current crackdown on Prof. Xu may send a chilling effect of self-censorship in these institutions, which hosts many American scholars. Self-censorship may also spread into American universities through their partner institutions in China, which would severely violate American interests and global free speech. We also cannot exclude that the CCP would one day actively cleanse these institutions of political discourse it deems undesirable, extending the crackdown on Prof. Xu to living, breathing visiting scholars on exchanges in China.

We therefore urgently demand,

Tsinghua University to:

  • End all unlawful investigations on Prof. Xu and resume his position fully and immediately;
  • Apologize for and address the harm of this crackdown to the public and Tsinghua’s students, faculty and staff;
  • Ensure institutional mechanisms and a campus culture supporting free speech;

Chinese Communist Party to:

  • End the unlawful crackdown on Prof. Xu and other dissident intellectuals immediately;
  • End the unlawful crackdown on Unirule Institute of Economics (Prof. Xu works at this think tank) and restore its offices, licenses and social media accounts fully and immediately;
  • Ensure academic freedom in domestic and foreign partner institutions;

White House and other national governments to:

  • Sanction individuals or agencies directing or complicit in crackdowns against Chinese intellectuals under applicable laws, e.g., the Magnitsky Act in the US;
  • Reject CCP influence in domestic or foreign partner academic institutions and regulate by law.

Here's how you can act for Prof. Xu: