AN ACTIVIST was held in one of China’s controversial detention centres, after winning a scholarship to the University of Sussex, and then disappeared.
Sophia Huang Xueqin is a popular journalist and activist in China, documenting and promoting the MeToo movement in her country and investigating sexual harassment in Chinese media.
She has been the subject of a disinformation campaign by the Chinese government because of her work.
Sophia then received the Chevening Scholarship, an award funded by the British government to strengthen diplomacy between the two countries, and was due to enroll in gender studies at the University of Sussex.
While traveling to the UK to start their studies in September 2021, Sophia and fellow activist Wang Jianbing disappeared at an airport in China.
Now it has been confirmed by the BBC that Sophia and Wang Jianbing are being held in one of the country’s ‘black prisons’ – secret places where inmates are kept in solitary confinement.
On September 19, 2021, Sophia Huang Xueqin – the Chinese journalist who launched China #Me too movement – disappeared. What do we know so far? We talk to journalists @_laujessie and @zhanglijia64: https://t.co/VhuCf2NGG9 pic.twitter.com/Jlr6GGQwyv
– BBC Woman’s Hour (@BBCWomansHour) May 19, 2022
The BBC said the pair were now set to face suspicion of inciting subversion of state power.
According to Amnesty International, it is a “catch-all accusation often used against dissidents and activists who denounce the government”.
A University of Sussex spokeswoman said: ‘The University of Sussex community is seriously concerned for Sophia and her safety, and that she has not been able to start her studies at our university.
“We have raised the issue with the UK Government on several occasions and followed their advice throughout. We have also written to the UK Ambassador to China to express our concerns about Sophia’s safety.
“Since September, the university has responded to numerous reporters with statements about our support for Sophia and our efforts to raise her case.”
A student who spoke anonymously to the BBC said the university came under fire after students and staff were told not to comment on the matter, advising them to direct journalists to the press office of the University.
However, this is standard practice in most large organizations, regardless of the topic.
The student also said there was an opinion that the university was trying to avoid antagonizing the Chinese government because Chinese tuition fees are an important source of its income.
The University of Sussex rejects this claim.
“The university’s approach to China is guided by the government’s international education strategy and is in line with the rest of the industry. We welcome students from 150 territories around the world. Our proportion of Chinese students is in line with comparable universities,” the spokeswoman said.
“It is our concern for Sophia – and nothing else – that has guided our actions throughout.
“We really hope that Sophia can join us soon.”
A spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “We remain concerned that no contact has been made with Huang Xueqin or Wang Jianbing since September, and are following the matter closely. .”