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By: Weston Poor
Weixing Li, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor of practice in business management, has returned to Lincoln after almost 14 days under the custody of the Chinese authorities.
The announcement of his return came last week in a Tuesday press release from the university. Li was detained by authorities in China’sHenan Province, about 400 miles southwest of Beijing, for what he called a “personal accident,” in an interview with UNL.
In an attempt to fulfill a promise Li made to his mother, Li borrowed a vehicle from a friend in order to drive to his late father’s grave and clean it, a Chinese ritual. Complications arose when Li was stopped about 15 miles from Tangyin, his father’s hometown, for a routine police checkpoint. The vehicle turned out to have been borrowed from a friend of Li’s friend, putting Li an awkward situation to explain to the police. A search was conducted on the car where authorities discovered pharmaceuticals in the trunk, which required a special license Li didn’t have, according to the press release.
Because of the lack of license, Li was transported to a facility 90 minutes away, where it was made clear he couldn’t leave. Li was housed in a room similar to a hotel room as Li described it as having a bedroom and a living room, said David Fitzgibbon, manager of broadcast service in the office of university communications at UNL.
Due to the rural location where Li was taken into custody, the process of clarifying Li’s legitimacy took longer than expected.
According to Chinese law, the police can’t arbitrarily detain someone but must either file for a formal arrest or release a suspect within 48 hours, in most cases, said Andrew Wedeman, a former professor of political science at UNL.
“In practice, the police detain people for much longer periods without filing charges and Chinese courts’ records on enforcing writs of habeas corpus is spotty,” he said.
Li was constantly watched and the three times he was allowed to call his sister and the two times he called his wife, he was forced to write a script that the authorities approved, Li said in the interview with UNL. He wasn’t allowed to tell his family he was detained because authorities told him that they would interfere with the investigation and his name wasn’t placed on an official detention or arrest list.
After learning the car owner had the proper documentation that allowed him to legally transport the medicine, the authorities then focused on Li’s background and released Li June 20 at 9 a.m.
Despite Li’s situation with Chinese authorities, the university will remain committed to the study abroad China program, said David Wilson, UNL’s senior international officer. Wilson said all 17 students involved in the program were reported to having been in no danger throughout the program or the duration of Li’s detention.
Some say they believe the university should be more wary when sending study abroad programs to China and subjecting students and faculty to Chinese laws.
“I think UNL should be very careful about official programs with China when you have educators or students who are subjected to these kind of Chinese policies which are in violation of internationally recognized standards about due process,” said David Forsythe, UNL professor emeritus of political science. “Various Western governments and human rights organizations have objected to Chinese detention policies and I think UNL should insist in any future agreements that the participants will be treated in accordance with internationally recognized human rights.”