The student unions of 13 higher institutions have released a joint statement condemning Chief Executive Carrie Lam and university authorities for “making an explicit effort” to limit free speech after the emergence of pro-independence banners on campus.

Last week, banners advocating Hong Kong independence appeared on various campuses, stirring heated debate. Other banners “congratulating” Education Undersecretary Choi Yuk-lin on the death of her son, as well as apparently satirical slogans mocking the death of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, later emerged.

Carrie Lam decried the posting of independence banners and remarks on Choi as an “abuse” of freedom of speech, while the Education University apologised after footage of the individuals who posted the messages referring to Choi was leaked online.

university statement
Photo: 香港大學學生會 The Hong Kong University Students’ Union via Facebook.

“Universities are where thoughts and opinions are exchanged, and democracy walls are platforms for students to speak our minds,” the unions said in a statement released Sunday evening.

“The regime is now making an explicit effort to limit our freedom of expression through exerting pressure on university authorities to punish those whose speech may have intimidated the people in power. Students’ Unions across the higher institutions condemn such atrocities.”

Referring to the independence banners hung at a site managed by the student union (CUSU) at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the statement said: “while the students by no means breached the law, the university authorities claimed that such advocacies as illegal [sic] and overrode CUSU by sending securit[y]to remove the banner, revealing their complete ignorance to the autonomy of CUSU.”

They stressed that the Basic Law has a constitutional status and that “neither the government nor the university authorities can restrict the freedom of students to discuss Hong Kong independence under the name of the Basic Law.”

The statement also said that CUSU’s executive committee has been “suffering excessive nuisance” but university authorities did not take action to protect the students. “The authorities, as educators, should feel shameful for not ensuring the safety of students due to differences in opinions.”

Slogans ‘inappropriate’ but ‘excusable’

The students unions said the slogans “congratulating” Choi for the loss of her son were “inappropriate” but excusable, as the “Education Bureau has been introducing malicious policies against students, ranging from TSA to national education, and Choi has been an explicitly pro-government person.”

“With no effective channels to express their discontent, young people may have chosen such emotional and even irrational expression,” the statement continued.

hku democracy wall independence
Pro-independence notices at HKU. File Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The unions said that the university authorities were “creating white terror” by leaking CCTV footage to the media and said that such action “stirs up public emotions and ignite[s] mass criticism that is disproportionate, and may also violate the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance.”

The student bodies said that Hong Kong citizens are guaranteed freedom of speech under Article 27, adding, “Our rights must be protected and respected, while academic freedom and institutional autonomy are values that must not be stripped away… this is the line that we shall never compromise.”

The student unions that jointly issued the statement are:

  • City University of Hong Kong Students’ Union
  • Hang Seng Management College Students’ Union
  • Hong Kong Baptist University Students’ Union
  • Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Students’ Union
  • Lingnan University Students’ Union
  • Student Union of Chu Hai College of Higher Education
  • Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong Students’ Union
  • The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts Students’ Union
  • The Education University of Hong Kong Students’ Union
  • The Hong Kong University Students’ Union
  • The Open University of Hong Kong Students’ Union
  • The Student Union of Hong Kong Shue Yan University
  • The Student Union of The Chinese University of Hong Kong

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.