The Hong Kong Polytechnic University has said it will remove pro-independence slogans displayed on campus in order to protect its students and prevent them from breaking the law.

Last week, messages supporting independence and the discussion of independence at Chinese University appeared on a message board at PolyU. The board is managed by the student union, though the posters were removed by staff from the property management office.

Photo: HKPUSU PressCom.

On Wednesday, around ten members of the student group PolyU Pavilion demonstrated outside the principal’s office, demanding to meet with school authorities. According to a poster circulated by the group, they hoped to express their displeasure at the school’s removal of slogans from the message board, and demanded an explanation from management.

The school agreed to hold talks with the students, but the plan fell through when school authorities refused to permit reporters to attend the meeting.

‘Protecting’ students

The Polytechnic University issued a statement on Wednesday evening, saying that, out of respect for the Basic Law, which states that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China, it does not agree with Hong Kong independence. It added that it would remove all slogans and materials related to independence.

“The school hopes, and believes that the vast majority of students would understand that its removal of slogans advocating Hong Kong independence (no matter where they are located on campus) is to protect students, in order to prevent them from possibly violating the law.”

The university said it did not aim to punish those who were posting the material, but “as educators, the school has a responsibility to tell students that there are limits to freedom of speech, including content that is offensive, insulting, or encourages others to break the law.”

The school added that it did not think outsiders should participate in any dialogue between the management and the students, and expressed regret that students had chosen not to proceed with the talks.

Students confront school staff. Photo: HKPUSU PressCom.

Speaking to the press following the action on Wednesday, PolyU Pavilion member Franco Wong Chak-hang slammed the school for lacking transparency in preventing reporters from observing the talks.

“Since last Wednesday, they already took action to tear down slogans on the Democracy Wall, but until today, they still have not publicly made a response or explanation about it,” he said.

He added that the group could not accept the school’s insistence on a closed-door meeting, saying it amounted to the school refusing to be monitored by the public.

He added that the group would not rule out further action to surround the school management offices.

The Basic Law states that Hong Kong is part of China, but also guarantees the right to “freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration.”

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.