University of Hong Kong Council Chairperson Edward Leong Che-hung said that the university has sought police assistance over leaked recordings of a closed-door council meeting, a move which a legal scholar has called a “waste of police resources.” Meanwhile, the Education Bureau has released a statement condemning the leak.

On Wednesday, Commercial Radio broadcast a voice recording of the HKU Council meeting during which Johannes Chan Man-mun’s appointment to the University’s pro-vice-chancellorship was rejected. It was reported to the Western Police Station on Wednesday evening and the Crime Unit will be following up on the matter, Leong said.

A spokesperson for the university said that it could not confirm how the recording of the meeting had been obtained or whether the room had been bugged, and hence asked the police to investigate. The university was also seeking legal advice.

Arthur Li. Photo: Stand News.

The recording features Council member Arthur Li Kwok-cheung giving a variety of reasons to reject Chan. It confirms HKU Student Union president Billy Fung Jing-en’s earlier accounts of the meeting. Li cited Chan’s lack of a doctoral degree and the fact that he was merely a “nice guy” as grounds for why he was not qualified for the position, Fung had revealed. Li also accused Chan of being a “party secretary.”

Fung has since been suspended from future confidential meetings. Ta Kung Pao heavily criticised the secret informant in a commentary piece on Thursday, saying it was “obvious” who the culprit was, implying that it was Fung.

Arthur Li said that he had not listened to the recording yet but emphasised his comments were aboveboard and reasonable. Responding to the fact that Li had called Fung a “liar” and that the recording now supports Fung’s claims, Li claimed he was simply referring to Fung breaking the confidentiality rules – and not the contents of what Fung said.

The leak came amid speculation that Li could be appointed Council chair by the government as soon as Friday. Meanwhile, HKU English Professor Douglas Kerr has written a public letter to the next chair of the HKU Council, urging them to introduce reforms and restore the credibility of the school’s governing body. Professor Timothy O’Leary, head of humanities, also expressed similar sentiments.

‘A waste of police resources’

Principal lecturer at the HKU Law faculty, Eric Cheung Tat-ming, told Stand News that he could not see any criminal elements in the matter and was surprised it had been reported to the police. He also said that it was a waste of police resources, and that breaking confidentiality rules, which was an internal matter concerning disciplinary regulations, would at most amount to a civil, and not a criminal, claim. “A university should not be so ignorant as to not be able to tell the difference between criminal and civil claims,” he said.

Professor Eric Cheung Tat-ming. Photo: HKFP.

Lawyer and HKU Court member James To Kun-sun, however, disagreed with this. If the media got their hands on the recording through illegal means, such as hacking, then there would be a need for police involvement. If a Council member had secretly taped the meeting, he said, leaking its contents would not be a criminal offence.

Vitus Leung Wing-hang also said that Li’s comments at the HKU meeting were not “private.” He said the police might categorise the case as “using a computer with dishonest intent,” which carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment, Apple Daily reported.

Education Bureau: ‘strongly condemns such acts’

After it was broadcast, the Education Bureau issued a statement condemning leak.

“Institutional autonomy is an important value of Hong Kong society. The Council is the supreme governing body of HKU and has always observed the principle of confidentiality so that members can speak their minds free from any pressure or interference, political or otherwise, and participate in decision-making in accordance with the long-term interests of the University,” read the the Education Bureau statement.

“Any act which violates the system of confidentiality in order to serve any other purpose not only seriously impairs the normal and effective operation of the University’s supreme governing body but also undermines its institutional autonomy. The Government as well as all who care about the University will not condone such acts.”

Stephen Chan. Photo: Stand News.

Stephen Chan Chi-wan also raised questions of double standards over the criticisms of the leak on Commercial Radio on Thursday, saying that Wenweipo had similarly published leaked details about Johannes Chan being a candidate for pro-vice-chancellor in November 2014, but the Education Bureau had not released any statement on the matter back then.

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Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.