Free Speech in American Universities Under Attack From Beijing – Students for a Free Tibet
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Free Speech in American Universities Under Attack From Beijing

November 15, 2019

Panopticism with Chinese Characteristics
The event that was cancelled: “Panopticism with Chinese Characteristics: the human rights violations by the Chinese Communist Party and how they affect the world.”

Teng Biao, Chinese human rights lawyer, Grove Human Rights Scholar, Hunter College, the City University of New York.
Cell: +1-617-396 6099

Rose Tang, activist and Tiananmen Massacre survivor.
Cell: +1-718-344 3408

Dorjee Tseten, Executive Director, Students for a Free Tibet; Member of the Tibetan-Parliament-in-Exile.
Cell: +1-646-753 3889

Rushan Abbas, Executive Director, Campaign for Uyghurs.
Cell: +1-559-375 3571

Roxanne Chang, Hong Kong Youth Activist.

A Joint Statement Regarding Columbia University’s Cancellation of a Panel Discussion

We’re scholars and activists from Hong Kong, China, Tibet and East Turkestan, members of a panel discussion that was to be held at Columbia University on November 14. Unfortunately, a few hours before the event was due to start, Columbia University authorities told organizers to cancel the event, citing concerns for security, because a Chinese student group threatened to stage a protest outside the venue on campus. The cancellation is a perfect example of the event title: “Panopticism with Chinese Characteristics: the human rights violations by the Chinese Communist Party and how they affect the world.”

We were shocked that our event became the latest casualty of a worrying trend in which organized groups of pro-Beijing Chinese students in American universities vandalize posters, threaten, intimidate and harass students, staff and even guest speakers on and off campus—whoever they do not like or do not agree with, including Chinese students.

Similar incidents of blatant vandalism, hate speech and physical assaults from pro- Beijing Chinese students are widespread on university campuses throughout the United States, including Syracuse University, the University of Rochester, the University of Maryland, Rutgers University, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of California San Diego. And such a phenomenon has proliferated to university campuses worldwide over the last few years, including Canada, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Britain and other European countries.

Events held in support of the current pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong have also seen obstructions from pro-Beijing protesters. Students from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet and East Turkestan (Xinjiang) on American campuses increasingly experience harassment and even receive death threats from pro-Beijing Chinese students.

We’re extremely concerned that American universities, safe havens that welcome all from around the world, beacons of freedom, independence and truth, have become battle fields and fallen victim to the dictatorship that is the Chinese government. The clashes in universities have been instigated mainly by two organizations, the Confucius Institute, an arm of China’s Education Ministry, and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, which has chapters on nearly every American university campus and is financed and sponsored by the Chinese Embassy and consulates. The CSSA monitors students (especially those from China) and reports to the Chinese consulates.

It is shocking that the Chinese Communist Party, which is responsible for decade-long genocide of millions of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongols and Chinese people, has been allowed to wield its power over American educational institutions where academic freedoms and freedom of speech are protected and promoted. As dissidents persecuted by Beijing, we’re dismayed that we now have to defend our freedoms in our country—the United States of America.

It is important for every student in American universities to learn the truth of what’s happening in Hong Kong, China, East Turkestan (Xinjiang), Tibet, and Southern Mongolia, which are under Beijing’s rule. But the Chinese government’s long arm has repeatedly prevented such discussions from happening. This is an insult to academic freedom, free speech and the whole educational sector in this country.

We’re deeply disturbed to witness this unfortunate incident at a prestigious university like Columbia University. It’s a sign of how deeply the Chinese government has infiltrated our academic institutions and exert influence. We believe students have the right to an education free from the Chinese government’s influence and an environment free from China’s censorship efforts. It is time for leaders of the US government and members of Congress to take action to protect democratic values, free expression, and academic freedom.

We call on American universities to conduct investigations and shut down the Chinese Students and Scholars Association and Confucius Institutes. We urge the Congress to host hearings and conduct investigations on the Chinese Communist Party’s infiltration, intimidation and encroachment of academic freedom and freedom of speech in American universities and schools.