The student union of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has removed a large Hong Kong independence banner from a square it manages, but denied it was bending to pressure from the school.
The move came six days after the school’s head Joseph Sung urged students to remove the banner from the campus’ Cultural Square – which is managed by the student union – before the school takes action.
“The banner was removed, but the matter will not end here, and it does not mean we will bend down to the school,” it said. “We will continue fighting to protect CUHK’s freedom of expression.”
It warned that if the school refuses to communicate with students to resolve the matter and make concrete promises regarding the union’s autonomy, the union will raise the banner again.
An independence banner was first raised by anonymous people in early September before CUHK took action to remove it. A second banner was soon raised again, leading students at other universities to post Hong Kong independence slogans in support of the CUHK student union.
The student union said in a statement that the banner was raised without approval, and if kept in the same place, it would deprive other students of the opportunity to use the space for their own banners. Also, it said talks with the school had reached a stalemate and it was “unreasonable” to keep the banner raised.
The heads of ten universities previously issued a joint statement against independence, saying that it contravenes the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution. They said they value freedom of expression, but warned that it is subject to restrictions.
But the student union criticised the school for holding a double standard, as it did not express any opposition to a banner that read “Oppose legislation of Article 23.” It argued that the banner contravenes the Basic Law article, which states that Hong Kong “shall enact its own” national security law.
“Clearly the school has a double standard – everything is political censorship,” the union’s statement read. “University management has become the regime’s puppet – freedom of expression will be destroyed.”
It accused the school of creating “white terror” by “misleading the public in saying that contravening the constitution is equal to violating criminal laws.”
“There is no clear section in current criminal laws to limit pro-independence speech, and the Department of Justice has never pursued any legal responsibility,” it added.
It also criticised Sung for going back on a promise made by CUHK’s vice-president Dennis Ng, who said the school would not remove banners before consulting the student union.
CUHK said it welcomed the student union’s move to remove the banner. It added that it will continue communicating with the union on the rules regarding Cultural Square.