A former head of one of Hong Kong’s top universities has suggested that students who stormed a council meeting at the University of Hong Kong on Tuesday should be imprisoned.

Lawrence Lau Juen-yee, the former Vice-Chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, made the comments after dozens of students charged into a council meeting last week, where the governing body decided to uphold a decision to delay the appointment of a new pro-vice chancellor. Two people from the council – including Lau’s wife Ayesha Macpherson – were hospitalised as students flooded the room.

cuhk ayesha macpherson
Lawrence Lau Juen-yee, a former vice-chancellor from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Photo: CUHK.

Johannes Chan Man-mun, former dean of the university’s law faculty, was reported to be unanimously recommended for the role of pro-vice chancellor. Students and HKU alumni have criticised the decision to delay his appointment as politically motivated because of Chan’s pro-democracy views.

In an article published in Ming Pao, Lau said: “Given their mob-like behaviour on Tuesday night, are these young people ready to take on responsibilities as adults? It makes people doubt whether they were educated and raised properly as adults? What about the motives of those ‘adults’ who use them?”

“Finally it raises another question regarding taxpayers’ money. Should we continue to fund these arrogant and self-centred ‘spoiled brats’, who have no respect and consideration for the freedom and rights of others?”

Lau then goes on to suggest that as punishment, the students who stormed the meeting should go to prison or do 100 hours of community service. He added that those who are firm in their beliefs should be willing to go to jail for their beliefs like Nelson Mandela and Tsang Tak-sing, the former Home Affairs Secretary who recently stepped down from his role after eight years in the job.

Tsang was arrested in 1967 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for distributing anti-government and pro-Communist leaflets. He was convicted of distributing inflammatory material that promoted public order crime.

Stephen Chan Chi-wan, host of a morning Commercial Radio show, suggested the article was influenced by the fact that his wife was involved. Chan added that he did not see any “violent” or “mob-like” behaviour, and said that the “the public considers the decision by the HKU council absurd.”

Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist who recently resigned from the university’s council, asked for the public “to be fairer” to the student’s actions. Yuen said that “those who swore, threw objects, and pushed did not look like students,” and added that some of those involved looked “much older and coarser than students.”

Students occupy HKU Council meeting.
Students occupy HKU Council meeting. Photo: HKU Undergrad via Facebook.

Lau’s comments come after state media urged Chan to withdraw his nomination for the pro-vice-chancellor. A commentary published in People’s Daily described the scenes from last week as “violent” and dubbed the students who stormed the meeting as “radicals.”

The article said that the “radical” students were “lawless and out of their minds”, and claimed the students’ actions were a result of “brainwashing and instigation by the opposition party” and “the lack of legal deterrence in the conviction of similar cases”.

The decision to delay Chan’s appointment raised concerns about academic independence and institutional autonomy in Hong Kong’s universities. Students have previously held protests against the laws that stipulate that Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is also the Chancellor of all universities in the territory.

The role gives him the power to nominate members of the governing boards of Hong Kong’s major universities. According to an article by legislator Ip Kin-yuen and Helena Wong Pik-wan, over 70 members have been appointed to various institutions since Leung Chun-ying took office, with almost 30 percent of those individuals being current or former members of China’s political consultative committee or its legislature.

Vicky is a British-born Chinese journalist with three years of experience covering UK politics. She previously worked for PoliticsHome and has interned at Sky News and CNN International. She also co-produced and filmed a documentary about the Hong Kong protests for MSNBC, which won the grand student prize at the 2015 Human Rights Press Awards. She has a BA in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading and moved to Hong Kong in 2014 to complete a journalism masters at the University of Hong Kong.