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Hong Kong University Cuts Off Student Union Over Political Participation

FILE - This photograph taken on Nov. 14, 2020 shows a photographer in front of pictures depicting the 2019 campus siege at the height of the city's pro-democracy protests at an exhibition in the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
FILE - This photograph taken on Nov. 14, 2020 shows a photographer in front of pictures depicting the 2019 campus siege at the height of the city's pro-democracy protests at an exhibition in the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Authorities at a second Hong Kong university have cut ties with the student union, saying that it had become a “platform for political propaganda” following its involvement in recent protest movements.

“The Hong Kong University Students’ Union (HKUSU) has become increasingly politicized in recent years, utilizing the University campus as a platform for its political propaganda,” the University of Hong Kong said in a statement on Friday.

“It has repeatedly made inflammatory and potentially unlawful public statements and unfounded allegations against the University,” it said.

“The university strongly condemns HKUSU’s radical acts and remarks,” the statement said.

It said the university would stop collecting membership fees on behalf of HKUSU and would “enforce its management rights” over the facilities currently used by the union.

“The University may also take further actions, if necessary,” it said, citing the need to protect “national security.”

A draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the ruling Chinese Communist Party from July 1, 2020, has targeted dozens of pro-democracy politicians and activists for “subversion” after they organized a primary election in a bid to win more seats in the city’s legislature.

The law bans words and deeds deemed subversive or secessionist, or any activities linked to overseas groups, as “collusion with foreign powers,” including public criticism of the Hong Kong government and the Chinese Communist Party.

Students oppose appointments

The HKU announcement comes after the union strongly opposed the appointment of two mainland Chinese scholars as vice presidents, saying that they would help to assert Chinese Communist Party control over the city’s oldest university.

Max Shen, who has previously been listed as a member of a Chinese Communist Party committee at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, and his former Tsinghua colleague Gong Peng started their jobs as vice presidents of research and academic development respectively from January 2021.

The severing of ties with the union comes after an article in the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, denounced HKUSU for smearing the government’s attempts to win public support for the national security law.

It called for “strong medicine to remove the malignant tumor in the ivory tower.”

Labour Party chairman and former HKUSU president Steven Kwok said the university’s action against the union appeared to have been triggered by the People’s Daily article.

“I think their actions were instigated by [authorities in] mainland China,” Kwok told Radio Free Asia. “It’s all part of the current political situation and carrying out Beijing’s wishes.”

The Chinese University of Hong Kong severed ties with its student union Syzygia on Feb. 26, banning the union from using university facilities or staff and accusing it of failing to clarify “potentially unlawful statements and false allegations.”

‘Getting rid of anything risky’

Current affairs commentator Johnny Lau said universities have been tripping over themselves to demonstrate loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party since the national security law took effect.

“They are minimizing their risk by getting rid of anything risky,” Lau said. “This is an active form of adaptation to the politicization process being instigated by mainland China.”

He said the recent moves by the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong show the ever-widening damage to freedom of speech and academic freedom in Hong Kong.

“The university management are the ones damaging HKU’s rankings and reputation, not the students,” Lau said, referring to the University of Hong Kong.

Former student activist Joshua Wong — currently serving a prison sentence on public order charges linked to the 2019 protest movement — pleaded guilty in a Hong Kong court on Friday to “taking part in an illegal assembly” in connection with a vigil commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre in Victoria Park last year.

Wong, together with pro-democracy district councilors Lester Shum, Tiffany Yuen, and Jannelle Leung, pleaded guilty to the charges, with sentencing expected on May 6.

Wong, Shum, and Yuen also face “subversion” charges under the national security law after they took part in the democratic primary for the canceled Legislative Council election in 2020. All three were returned to custody following the hearing.

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