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Missing Elite Chinese University Students, Alumni Spark Outcry

Voice of America
15 Nov 2018, 14:05 GMT+10

BEIJING - Students and alumni of several Chinese universities are sounding the alarm over the apparent detention of more than a dozen young labor activists who have been missing since the weekend.

Three recent graduates of the elite Peking University have been taken away by authorities, the Jasic Workers Support Group said in a statement late Tuesday. According to the group, witnesses saw one person being "kidnapped" from the Beijing campus, while others in Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Shanghai also disappeared.

They were involved in a coalition, led by young Marxist activists, that was founded this summer to show solidarity with factory workers at Jasic Technology, a welding equipment manufacturer in southern China.

FILE - A young man swings on the barrel of a disabled tank on the streets of Beijing, June 9, 1989, after soldiers crack down on a student-led pro-democracy protest.

Disappearances routine

Activists in China are routinely "disappeared" by authorities working for the ruling Communist Party, which is wary of any collective action and potential threats to its authority. The government is particularly guarded about campus movements after the 1989 student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square that were ultimately crushed by the military.

The young Marxists are an unusual target, however, because they espouse the same values - socialism, workers' rights and Marxist ideology - the party has advocated.

The sudden disappearances all occurred around 9 p.m. Friday, the Jasic Workers Support Group said. Three others in Wuhan, including one factory worker, were taken away by police Sunday, though one was released early the next day.

Attacked on campus

Peking University students and alumni expressed alarm after students published accounts online saying that they were beaten on campus by unidentified men who forced a recent graduate named Zhang Shengye into a car Friday evening.

In a statement posted on an internal Peking University forum, the school's security department said the "situation" Friday was that of a "police department lawfully taking into custody a criminal suspect ... who is not a current student, teacher or employee of the school."

A member of the security department confirmed over the phone Wednesday that the statement came from the university.

One fourth-year history student, writing on the Jasic Workers Support Group's website, said he was thrown to the ground outside of a lecture hall by five people dressed in black.

When he asked them who they were, he said, one swore at him and yelled, "If you keep yelling, we'll keep hitting you!" Shortly afterward, a tall, burly man started kicking his head.

The student said he then saw that someone was being dragged into a car that swiftly drove away.

The student who wrote this account could not be reached Wednesday. Members of the Jasic Workers Support Group, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they believe he has been forced to leave campus for the time being.

Someone who identified himself as a third-year Peking University medical student said in an online post Wednesday that he had a similar encounter on that same night, when people in dark clothing rushed at him and held him to the ground until he bled.

Alumni protest

Thirteen Peking University alumni attached their names to a public letter Wednesday evening protesting the treatment of the students, who said they were beaten.

Decrying the "illegal, gang-like violence," they wrote, "Peking University should be a place where rule of law thrives!"

Zhang, who graduated from Peking University's pharmaceutical school this year, was a vocal member of the Jasic Workers Support Group. He was among about 50 young people from across the country who convened in an apartment near Shenzhen in August to rally behind Jasic factory workers who were fired for trying to form a union.

The apartment was stormed by police in riot gear and the group members were detained for a few days before authorities escorted them back to their hometowns. Several had their phones confiscated for the remainder of the summer and continued to be hounded by police back home, according to a student who took part in the action.

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