More than a thousand students, alumni and teachers joined a protest at Hong Kong University Friday evening as anger mounts over political interference in the city’s education system.
Protests have gathered pace since the appointment of a liberal law scholar to a senior administrative post at HKU was rejected last week.
The university’s council, which has a number of members seen as pro-Beijing, voted against Johannes Chan becoming pro-vice chancellor.
Some members of the council, HKU’s top decision-making body, are appointed by the city’s unpopular leader Leung Chun-ying.
Chan was a close colleague of pro-democracy leader Benny Tai, also an academic at HKU. Tai helped orchestrate last year’s mass pro-democracy protests which brought parts of the semi-autonomous Chinese city to a standstill.
Protesters Friday were dressed in black and gathered around a stage set up outside the university library.
Some were wearing t-shirts with the Martin Luther King quote: “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
“We should ask whether the government is trying so hard to destroy Hong Kong’s tertiary education that it doesn’t care about the consequences,” education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen told reporters.
“It’s a threat to Hong Kong as a whole.”
Wednesday saw 2,000 students, professors and alumni gather at the HKU campus for a silent march.
On Thursday, academic staff from across the city’s universities and higher education institutions launched a new group — the Scholars’ Alliance for Academic Freedom (SAAF).
They said it would “pay close attention” to academic freedoms in Hong Kong and examine any violations.
“Academic freedom can only exist through perpetual awareness, insistence and collective work,” it said in a statement.
“We are aware of the storm and the darkness that awaits us; we have no choice but to face it head on and walk against the wind.”
Anger was stoked further Friday after reports in local media that Leung had met with HKU vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson in August and September, ahead of the decisive council meeting.
Once a British colony, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 under a deal which guaranteed the retention of its civil liberties and capitalist lifestyle for 50 years.
Professor Chan Cho-wai talks about the silent march against HKU Council’s decision on Tuesday; crowd clap for him. pic.twitter.com/mGRkQpSMNM
— Kris Cheng (@krislc) October 9, 2015
But teachers report increasing self-censorship over political issues for fear of losing jobs.
In 2012, tens of thousands marched against “national education”, a government proposal to introduce Beijing-centric patriotic teaching into schools. The plan was dropped.