Students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong have established a freedom of expression concern group, after a debate on free speech was sparked by the emergence of pro-independence banners on university campuses at the start of the school year.

The heads of ten universities issued a joint statement last Friday, condemning “recent abuses” of freedom of expression, with some institutions removing the messages.

The group said that it was established by CUHK students “who are unwilling to surrender in the face of suppression.” In its launch manifesto published on Tuesday, the group said it has come to their attention that freedom of speech and expression was being undermined on campus.

Photo: 中大言論自由關注組 CUHK Freedom of Expression Concern Group via Facebook.

Referring to incidents where the university’s Vice-Chancellor Joseph Sung demanded the pro-independence slogans be removed, with university officers “relentlessly” trying to do so, the group said that “such actions undoubtedly violate the right of students and teachers to freely discuss politics inside campus.”

“And yet, the Council and Mr. Sung attempted to legitimize such oppression with the claim that ‘Hong Kong independence violates the Basic Law’ to conceal the deprived right to freedom of speech and expression,” the group said.

Photo: 中大言論自由關注組 CUHK Freedom of Expression Concern Group via Facebook.

“As a place to produce and advocate knowledge, freedom of speech and expression within the university is indispensable,” the manifesto continued. “It is only in an environment where we could be free from the fear to be criminalized by speech, where we [can] think and debate on various schools of thought in different fields within the society and to search and discover new ideas.”

“We hope that more of our fellow schoolmates can be concerned about the issue and defend the freedom of speech and expression within our campus,” it added.

Word removed

At Lingnan University, a student who on Monday posted a slogan onto the democracy wall stating “Support In-Media” – which in Chinese characters is written as “Support Hong Kong independent media” – said the characters representing “independence” were removed the following morning.

The word “independence” removed from Lingnan University’s democracy wall. Photo: Stand News.

The student, Poon Ka-kit, told Stand News he had indicated his name and his student number in accordance with the democracy wall’s regulations. However, on Tuesday he was informed by student union administrators of the wall that the characters for “independence” were removed. Poon said it was unacceptable and stressed he will continue posting every time it is taken down.

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.