China province's plan to install CCTV to film professors in university classrooms under fire

BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese province's plans to install CCTV cameras in university classrooms have come under fire from lawyers who say the move will curb academic freedom, state-run media said Wednesday.

Guizhou province in southern China has declared that all higher education institutions should set up cameras to "monitor teachers", the Global Times reported.

Four lawyers in the province have called for the move to be explained, with one saying that it will "hamper creative thought and discourage class discussions", the report said.

Mr Li Guisheng, one of the four lawyers, told the Global Times that teachers "will fear being punished if they say something sensitive... the quality of instruction will suffer". The lawyers are demanding that the provincial education department "justify its move", and will consider legal action if it does not do so, the report said.

But Guizhou University professor An Heping told the Global Times that "teachers should have nothing to fear if they say the right thing".

China has greatly expanded its university system in recent decades as its economy has grown.

Universities are run by the ruling Communist party, which tightly controls discussions of history and other topics it construes as a potential threat to its grip on power.

The authorities have in the past installed video equipment in the classrooms of outspoken academics, most notably Uighur economics professor Ilham Tohti, who was sentenced to life in prison for separatism in September.

Evidence from the classroom cameras was used to convict the scholar, in a case that was condemned by human rights groups.

China has tightened controls on academics since President Xi Jinping assumed the party's top post in 2012, with several outspoken professors sacked or jailed.