Reporters Without Borders today condemned the sacking of Beijing University journalism lecturer Jiao Guobiao and called on the government to restore him to his post and stop restricting Internet discussion forums.
Jiao got a letter from the university authorities last week demanding that he voluntarily resign and a few weeks earlier, online discussion forums at several universities were banned to non-students.
"The crackdown on pro-democracy intellectuals has now spread to the country’s universities and we deplore such reprisals," the worldwide press freedom organization said.
Liu Xiaobo, the winner last December of the 2004 Reporters Without Borders / Fondation de France Prize for defending press freedom, has responded to the recent moves with an open letter to education minister Zhou Ji denouncing the "crazy and alarming" moves against free expression.
"Prime minister Wen Jiabao recently called the Internet a new place to present political decisions and express his opinions," he wrote, "and many Internet users appreciated his words. But now even he is not allowed to access university websites to find out what young people think because he is not a student."
The removal of Jiao, a journalism and communication lecturer, is the culmination of a long campaign of harassment against him after he criticized what the government now calls its Publicity Department (formerly known as the Propaganda Department) in a pamphlet accusing the ruling Communist Party of "obstructing the civilized growth of Chinese society" through its censorship policies.
A journalism course given by him was shut down last September and he was then forbidden to supervise doctoral students.
The Publicity Department ordered the official media last November to stop publishing articles by six pro-reform political commentators, including Jiao, but his writings continued to feature prominently online and in university circles.
Jiao was banned from working at the journalism and communication faculty at the end of last year and the authorities tried to stop him leaving the country. He told Radio Free Asia that he was being "seriously persecuted." The university had offered him a job in the archives department instead.
Students campaign for online freedom
The education ministry ordered university-run online discussion forums on 16 March to exclude non-students. The measure was implemented at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, which runs the biggest university forum, shuimu.com, and at the universities in Nanjing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Xian, Hangzhou, Jilin, Wuhan and Guangzhou. Students were also ordered to use their real names when posting messages.
The discussion forums, moderated by university officials, have enabled students and outside Internet users to tackle sensitive political topics not allowed in normal discussion forums.
Demonstrations at Tsinghua and Nanjing universities on 18 March protested at the restrictions and 100 or so demonstrators at Tsinghua held up pieces of papers saying "Bless and protect Shuimu" and "Peace" and "Freedom" (see photos).
The protests were the first by students against the regime since the Tiananmen demonstrations and massacre in 1989.
The authorities also censored an university online discussion group last September, hen they shut down Yi Ta Hu Tu, a forum run by Beijing University students.