The hospitalisation of an HKU Council member during scuffles at a meeting on Tuesday night has come under the spotlight after video footage appeared to show him sinking quietly to the floor – rather than being the victim of an assault as he later claimed.
Internet users questioned the actions of Lo Chung-mau, who fell to the ground clutching his knee after about 50 students forced their way into Tuesday’s council meeting to protest a decision to delay the appointment of a new pro-vice chancellor.
The pro-Beijing camp branded the protesters “disgraceful” and “violent” following the commotion, which left Lo and a fellow council member seeking hospital treatment. One newspaper claimed “extremists” had infiltrated the meeting and went so far as to describe the students as “Red Guards”.
Lo branded the students “disgraceful” after claiming someone had hit his leg, while fellow council member Arthur Li Kwok-cheung said Lo had been shoved to the floor as he tried to leave the meeting.
Footage on social media
In a widely circulated video shot by local broadcaster Delight Media, Lo can be seen standing calmly among students and reporters, looking to his left while most attention is fixed upon a commotion at the centre of the room. Suddenly he sinks to the floor and disappears from view.
As the camera pans down he is shown lying on his side holding his leg and not moving. The video gives no indication of a shove, nor that he was heading toward the exit as has been claimed.
One netizen said, “Please look for better timing [to fall down]. You should collapse during a scuffle. How ugly [the fall was]!”
Another wrote, “This guy is so funny, [his collapse] was ridiculously fake. We’d have been deceived if no one had taken a video.”
In another video shot by a citizen journalist, a security guard appears to be arguing with one of two students standing next to Lo, while the youngsters appear unaware of Lo’s presence until he falls down.
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As Lo waited in a wheelchair to be sent to hospital, he blasted the students’ actions as “disgraceful” and accused them of trying to block him from seeking medical attention.
“I’d be ashamed if those who are now blocking my way to the hospital — some even threw water bottles at me — are HKU students. They are lawless,” said Lo.
Reactions of the pro-Beijing camp
The incident made the front page of leftist newspapers Wen Wei Po and Tai Kung Pao on Wednesday. Wen Wei Po called the student protesters “Red Guards” — referencing the paramilitary youth organisation which supported Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution — who “charged into a meeting and hurt a council member”. It further described them as cold-blooded for “preventing Lo from going to the hospital”.
The paper said that “extremists have mixed [into the meeting] and provoked fights”, referring to pro-democracy activists who had gathered outside the building to support the students. The report stated that activists had taken advantage of the student protests after “being defeated” in last year’s pro-democracy Occupy protests.
Tai Kung Pao’s editorial called upon taxpayers to “protest against and condemn [the students’] villainy” and “ask HKU to punish them in accordance with the law”.
Ip Kwok-him, lawmaker of the pro-Beijing DAB party, repeated that the students’ actions had been “just like the Red Guards”.
“This is not democracy if those who talk about democracy don’t know what respect is. Students can express their opinions, but it doesn’t mean that others must accept their opinions,” said Ip.
Ip’s colleague, Christopher Chung Shu-kun, also a member of HKU’s Court, condemned the “troublemakers” and questioned whether a new pro-vice chancellor who is “supported by rioters” would ever be successful.
Brave Chan Yung, a member of China’s top political advisory body as well as City University’s Court, said the incident was evidence of the declining reputation of HKU’s law faculty and that students were “destroying HKU’s motto of ‘wisdom and virtue’”.
Johannes Chan Man-mun, a pro-democracy scholar and former dean of HKU’s law faculty, said in an interview with HKEJ that he had been unanimously recommended for the pro-vice chancellor post by the search committee in December 2014, and that management agreed he could take up the position on March 17.
Chan said he believed his pro-democracy stance was one reason for the delayed appointment, criticising the decision to postpone the announcement as “absolutely ridiculous”.
“The longer the incident has been delayed, the greater the feeling that there is political interference involved,” Chan said.
Chan has been widely commended for his capability, commitment and popularity among students. Four incumbent HKU deans have praised Chan’s competence, but have not explicitly stated support for his appointment.
Critics have questioned the appointment system of the HKU Council, criticising the current system as prone to political interference. As the governing body of the university, the HKU Council is comprised of 24 members. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying acts as the chancellor of all subsidised tertiary institutions and directly appoints six members.
Only one-third of the members, including two student representatives, are individuals from within the university.
Critics argue that the appointment system allows the chief executive to interfere with academic affairs if he chooses to and says the institution’s president – currently Peter Matheison – has little power over them.
Mathieson has remained largely silent on the issue, but news reports revealed that he had objected the council’s decision to postpone Chan’s appointment.
The appointment delay comes after a leaked email revealed thatl Benny Tai, law professor and founder of the Occupy Central campaign, had transferred money from anonymous donors to HKU accounts. Tai and his supervisor Johannes Chan were subsequently under internal investigation, but Tai has denied the charges and many consider both the email hack – and pro-Beijing newspapers’ extensive coverage of the incident – to be politically motivated.