Outgoing University of Hong Kong Vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson has said that the university expects people to “take responsibility for their actions” when asked about jailed activist and HKU alumus Alex Chow. He also confirmed that requests were received to remove Occupy Central convener Benny Tai from his teaching position.

Mathieson gave his final inauguration speech to incoming students on Wednesday morning. Earlier this year, he announced his resignation ahead of schedule, stating he will step down early next year.

Peter Mathieson. Photo: Campus TV screenshot.

Though he did not reveal the identity of the sender, Mathieson told reporters that he had received letters requesting that Benny Tai, co-organiser of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests, be removed from his position at the law faculty. He added that he did not agree entirely with the content of the letters.

Lawmaker Junius Ho earlier stated that he would be writing to the university to seek the removal of Tai.

Responding to the jailing of HKU alumni Alex Chow over his participation in the Civic Square clash, Mathieson said that he respected the court’s ruling and system.

“We expect people to take responsibility for their actions… we can’t absolve the breaking of the law,” he said. However, he also said that the university will do their best to provide assistance to its staff and students.

‘Lies and fabrication’

Hong Kong University Students’ Union President Wong Ching-tak said in his inauguration speech that he was given a definition of democracy by teachers in secondary school to allow him to tackle questions in a public exam. “But when I got into this university, I learn[t] the truth that there is simply no definition [of] democracy, and you can only acquaint yourself with the concept if you start to comprehend the various interpretations.

“Searching for the truth is particularly important when we’re now in a time of delusion and deception… We are told that we are born intrinsically and essentially as Chinese, regardless of our cultural backgrounds and our sense of belonging. We are told that [the] separation of powers never existed in Hong Kong and the Legislative Council and the court should cooperate with the government.”

Wong Ching-tak. Photo: Campus TV screenshot.

“And we are told that rule of law simply means abiding by the law, and civil disobedience to unjust laws is an unhealthy trend. We are now facing official narratives from the government that are full of lies and fabrication,” he said.

“So this is very important for us – to search for the truth and learn the truth. Learn what democracy can be. What rule of law truly means. Learn what a nation is… this is the only way that we stay who we are instead of becoming people that are obedient and subservient to the regime.”

‘Blind eye’

Wong also urged the students not to turn a blind eye to “things that are not right,” such as the fact that the University of Hong Kong council consists mostly of pro-government individuals from outside the school.

Wong said that students could choose to turn a blind eye to land policy issues, avoid criticising the government, and ignore that Chinese laws will be implemented in Hong Kong – referring to the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement for the high-speed rail. “Probably you will still be living fine in Hong Kong… but then one day, the things that you take for granted will disappear.”

Wong also told students that although Chief Executive Carrie Lam is an alumna of the university, so are activists Alex Chow, Edward Leung, Billy Fung, and Colman Li. “They’re the people we should be learning from.”

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.