Chinese authorities have refused to renew a student visa granted to German journalism student David Missal after he submitted a project on human rights lawyers for his master’s programme at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University.

Missal told HKFP that he handed in his application to renew his visa two months ago. But last Friday, he went to the Entry-Exit Administration and was told that his visa would not be renewed as he was engaging in activities that were not covered by his student visa. He was told that he had ten days to leave the country. Missal is studying under a DAAD scholarship and has one more year left of his programme.

“I asked them what kind of activities did I do… and they said you should know by yourself,” he told HKFP on Thursday.

David Missal with Li Wenzu. Photo: China Change.

Missal said he suspected that the reason was that he had chosen to make a mini-documentary on human rights lawyers for his class project.

He spoke to several lawyers and visited lawyer Lin Qilei in Hunan. In May, he accompanied Lin on a trip to Wuhan to visit detained democracy activist Qin Yongmin, and was detained by local police there while he was shooting footage. Qin was found guilty of “subversion of state power” and sentenced to 13 years in jail last month. Lin has also represented Wang Quanzhang, a lawyer detained in the 2015 crackdown on human rights lawyers.

The student also accompanied Li Wenzu, the wife of detained lawyer Wang Quanzhang, while she was attempting to walk 100 kilometres to raise awareness of her husband’s plight.

Missal said: “I think I didn’t do anything else that would be the reason for denying me the visa. And when I was together with one human rights lawyer from Wuhan… the police came by and took me to the police station.” He said he was detained for three hours and officers took his passport.

After the incident in Wuhan, Missal was told by his advisor that the school was unhappy about his chosen topic – despite the fact he obtained approval from his teacher beforehand. He said his advisor had received the message from the school’s leaders.

He said he was told by Tsinghua that there was nothing they could do to change the Entry-Exit Administration’s decision.

He said he does not know what will happen regarding his status at the university: “I don’t have a visa, so I can’t finish my studies, so I guess I can’t get my degree. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

He plans to go back to Germany for now and perhaps study in Taiwan in the future. He said he may return to China if he is granted a visa in the future, but does not think it is likely.

“I really would like to work as a journalist for foreign media in China but I think the possibility for this now is not really big any more.”

The Exit and Entry Administration of the Beijing Public Security Bureau referred HKFP’s enquiries regarding Missal’s visa to the school. HKFP has contacted Tsinghua’s International Students Office, the School of Journalism and Communication, and Missal’s professor for comment.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.