A German journalism student in Beijing was allegedly expelled due to a class project which involved him pursuing what school administrators deemed a “politically sensitive story.”
While taking up his master’s degree in journalism and communications at Tsinghua University, 24-year-old David Missal reportedly made a film about jailed human rights lawyers for a class project, Associated Press reports.
In an interview with BuzzFeed
, Missal revealed that he sought his professor’s approval to cover the topic after seeing some information about the lawyers and their family members online. After his professor gave him the green light, he began interviewing the lawyers, visiting one of them, Lin Qilei, in Hunan province.
When Missal joined Lin during his visit with a detained activist in Wuhan in May, police officers approached the student and brought him to a detention center. There, he was detained for three hours. He said that the police took his passport and started making phone calls.
Upon his return to Beijing, he was told by his academic adviser that the school wasn’t happy about his chosen topic, and told him to avoid pursuing sensitive topics in the future.
“[My adviser] told me that the leadership was not happy with what I did, so I should try not to do it [in the future,]” Missal said.
Despite being warned by a university representative twice against doing the project, Missal said he decided to go through with it anyway because he wanted to “get to learn Chinese society and politics.”
“In a way, the last two months I did get to learn more Chinese society and politics,” Missal was quoted as saying.
Missal has now returned home to Dusseldorf after his student visa was canceled last week.
Missal’s project involved the Chinese government’s nationwide crackdown against human rights lawyers and activists which started in July 2015.
During the massive operation, 300 individuals were reportedly questioned, detained, with some getting formally arrested. A number of those arrested received long sentences for “subversion of state power,” while some of them have yet to be sentenced.
According to Missal, his work was never published, although he talked about it on his personal blog and YouTube account.
Missal’s expulsion highlights China’s sensitivity to foreign commentary on its policies and actions.