The controversy triggered by the University of Hong Kong Student Union’s mourning for the July 1 stabbing suspect has reached a fever pitch recently. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who is also the University’s Chancellor, believes that even though the Student Union Convocation has apologized, the University still needs to take action. She agreed to follow up with law enforcement agencies, which means the Senate could be held criminally liable. The University issued a statement announcing that it no longer recognizes the role of the Students’ Union on campus. In addition to HKU, a number of student organizations in Hong Kong have recently given the red light one after another. Some student organizations fear that if the crackdown continues, Hong Kong’s institutional autonomy will be lost.
The storm triggered by a motion passed by the Hong Kong University Students’ Union Senate to mourn the police attack suspect continues to grow. On Tuesday (July 13), Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who is the university’s supervisor, said she must pursue the matter.
I am very angry as the Chief Executive, as the Chancellor of the University and even as a member of the public, and I feel a bit ashamed for the University,” Mrs Lam said. But whether it is followed up by law enforcement agencies or by the management of the University of Hong Kong, I will not intervene.”
The University subsequently issued a statement strongly condemning the serious misconduct of the HKU Student Union Convocation in blatantly glorifying violence, challenging the moral bottom line of society and damaging the reputation and interests of the HKU community, and will seriously investigate the incident and further deal with the students involved according to the results, and even made it clear that it will no longer recognize the role of the HKU Student Union on campus.
Tang Jiahua: Apology cannot end the matter
Senior barrister and member of the Hong Kong Executive Council, Ronald Tong, told the Voice of America that even an apology from a member of the Convocation would not be the end of the incident, just as an apology for killing a person would not be enough, and that the Convocation’s praise of the police attack suspect for his sacrifice for Hong Kong was actually promoting and praising terrorism.
Tang said: “Anyone who commits a crime and says sorry can be settled, Hong Kong will become no rule of law. Of course, I am not encouraging law enforcement officers to prosecute (the students involved), but according to the basic principle of the rule of law, if someone commits a crime, it must be decided by the legal system to prosecute or not. If the essence of the motion is to promote terrorism, then it is a violation of Article 27 of the National Security Law. It is up to the law enforcement authorities to decide whether or not the national security law has been violated.”
In April of this year, the Hong Kong University Student Union issued a statement on Hong Kong’s revised electoral system, describing it as “the end of the electoral system,” and wrote to President Zhang Xiang, criticizing the implementation of national security education on campus as a way of cutting off the institution’s autonomy. At the end of April, the university said that the student union’s actions had put the university at risk of breaking the law and that the relationship had to be clarified, and announced that it would take back the right to manage the union and stop collecting dues on behalf of the university. The University announced that it would take back the management of the site, stop collecting dues, etc. The university asked the student union to move out of the student union complex by next Wednesday (July 21).
Last Wednesday (July 7), the student organizations’ senate unanimously passed a motion to express sorrow to the suspect Leung Kin-fai, who died after attacking a police officer with a knife on the night of July 1, and mentioned that they were “grateful for his sacrifice for Hong Kong”.
Two days later, the student union withdrew the motion and apologized, and the officers resigned.
The university is accused of creating “white terror”
In an interview with the Voice of America, Kwok Wing-kin, chairman of the Hong Kong Labor Party and former president of the University’s student union, condemned the government and the University’s administration for creating “white terror.
He said, “The National Security Law, or all kinds of administrative measures, or even the banning of student unions, is totally unnecessary.
Guo Yongjian said that once the Hong Kong police National Security Division intervenes in the incident, the consequences will be very serious.
They are judging the minds of the students,” he said. The forty-seven people involved in the case of the democratic primary election have been detained without conviction and have not been released yet. It is very worrying whether the students will face arrest and detention.”
Speaking to Voice of America, retired City University of Hong Kong political science professor Yusaku Cheng said there is no doubt that the student union senate made a mistake in the incident, but the problem is that the police should not take action.
He said, “Democracies usually respect the independence and autonomy of university student unions. If they break university rules, then they will be disciplined on campus. If they commit a criminal offence, then let the police deal with it, without the school authorities asking for police intervention.”
Scholars denounce Lam Cheng’s double standard
Recently, the Director of Immigration, Mr. Au Ka-wang, the Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Mr. Tang Yee-hoi, and the Deputy Secretary for Security, Mr. Au Chi-kwong, were fined for violating the gathering restriction by attending a private banquet, and were questioned by the outside world whether they should accept the hospitality. As the police were investigating a case involving attempted rape, it was found that the gathering violated the gathering order, and some public opinion believed that the three people needed to be temporarily suspended from duty for investigation.
After the incident, Mrs Lam said she, the Chief Secretary for Administration and the Secretary for Security all agreed that the top officials involved did not knowingly commit the crime and believed they had paid a price other than the law, hoping the incident would come to an end.
Zheng Yushuo said: “The senior officials of the disciplined forces themselves violated the gathering restriction order, and a suspected rapist dined with the same seat, and there was no public personal apology afterwards, only a statement issued by the Security Bureau for them. Carrie Lam said publicly that she could accept their written apology and should not pursue the matter further, and to look forward. Since this forward-looking attitude applies to the highest level of the disciplined forces, why does it not apply to representatives of university student unions and senates?”
Student unions at universities have been suppressed one after another
In the past few months, a number of university student unions in Hong Kong have been given the red light one after another. Following the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University, City University and Polytechnic University, Lingnan University also announced on Thursday (July 15) that it would stop collecting dues on behalf of student unions.
Lingnan University sent emails to staff and students, saying it had received complaints from students, parents and the public in recent years that the practice of bundling student dues with tuition fees was inappropriate and misleading, and that the university believed it would be more appropriate for the student union to collect dues and manage finances on its own, as it is an independent registered body.
The student union accused the university of far-fetched and absurd reasons, making it difficult to believe and accept, and criticized the university for undermining the financial stability of the student union by various administrative means, bringing a heavy burden to the administration of the student union, reducing the influence of the student union, and indirectly affecting the long-term development of several student union affiliates, and damaging the rights of students.
Zheng Yushuo said that the crisis faced by the student unions of universities in Hong Kong makes people worried.
He said: “One is to take back their office space, office facilities, the operation of student unions naturally become difficult. Secondly, and more importantly, the student union dues are not collected for them, and it is very difficult to collect dues from students individually. Even if individual student representatives make mistakes, it should not be directed at the entire system of the student union, the operation of the entire organizational system of the student union.”
According to Zheng Yusuo, this is the epitome of the suppression of human rights and freedom of expression by the Hong Kong authorities.
He said, “The targets of the suppression are very broad. First of all, of course, it was people from the so-called democracy movement, and then we saw that district councilors were under pressure and many of them resigned. Student unions in high schools have also been targeted. So you can see that this crackdown on student unions is not an isolated action.”
Founded in 1912, the HKUSU is the earliest student union in Hong Kong universities, and has been actively involved in social movements in Hong Kong, including the 2014 Occupy Central Movement and the June 4 memorial activities, which have produced many celebrities and young social movement leaders.
The British Hong Kong Student Union
The former president of the Hong Kong University Student Union (HKUSU), Kwok Wing-kin, said that the British Hong Kong government had been very accommodating to the HKUSU during the colonial rule.
He said, “From the 1960s and 1970s to the Sino-British negotiations (on the future of Hong Kong), student unions have always spoken out on current issues. In the past, neither the government, nor the university would interfere. In the 1970s, for example, the student unions of the University of Hong Kong were staffed by nationalists or leftist students, but they were allowed by the British Hong Kong government at that time. We all understand that the atmosphere of freedom of speech and thought on campus was absolutely tolerated.”
Kwok is concerned that the 100-year foundation of the HKUSU will be destroyed by the paternalistic governance of the university.
He said, “Over the past two decades since Hong Kong’s sovereignty was returned to China, there have been more and more red lines. The most important thing for the student union is to show campus autonomy. If students in the student union feel that the officers will make mistakes, they can initiate a referendum, they can move a motion in the senate to condemn those who have made mistakes. Ask them to resign. Now it is just the opposite, taking paternalistic pressure to destroy the student union which has a history of over 100 years.”
In the past, every year on the eve of June 4, the Hong Kong Students’ Union mourned the tragedy through actions such as washing the Pillar of National Mourning created by a Danish sculptor and repainting the Taikoo Bridge.
Kwok said, “The chilling effect coupled with the white terror gripping the city, it is very pessimistic that there will be any more students coming forward to support these activities. We can’t rule out the possibility that a new red line will be added in the future: just mourning June 4 is a violation of the ban.”
In 2015, then Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying made a rare reference to the Academy when he delivered his “Policy Address”, which has been accused of spreading the idea of “Hong Kong independence”. “The Academy’s cover feature and books advocate that Hong Kong should “find a way out for self-reliance and self-determination.” The erroneous claims made by the Academy and the student leaders of Occupy Central cannot be dismissed.
Guo Yongjian estimated that once the long-established Hong Kong students’ union is unable to continue its operation, the university may plant a new student organization, and does not rule out that it will be dominated by local students with a pro-Beijing stance, or even students from mainland China.