Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) students have protested at their graduation ceremony urging protection for freedom of speech on campus.

The university was accused of suppressing freedom of expression following a recent row over the removal of banners relating to Hong Kong independence at the start of the school year.

Photo: Citizen News screenshot.

When Norman Leung, chair of CUHK’s governing Council, started giving degree certificates to undergraduates of the Faculty of Social Science, some students wore masks with red crosses, as they stood up and held placards that read “Don’t silence me” and “Defend freedom of speech in schools.”

A social work graduate surnamed Lo – who coordinated the protest – said they wished to speak out one last time as students, in order to defend the freedom of speech on campus and to protect its autonomy.

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Thursday was the last time Joseph Sung, outgoing vice-chancellor of the university, would be officiating at a graduation ceremony.

“This is your graduation ceremony as well as mine,” he said.

He said he cared about his students regardless of they agreed with him: “I sincerely hope you will be proud of CUHK, and CUHK will be proud of you in the future.”

Joseph Sung
Joseph Sung. Photo: CUHK.

He said that – during his seven-year tenure at CUHK – he experienced turmoil in society, changes in personnel and other controversies.

He urged students not to go to extremes when expressing opinions, as he quoted a Chinese idiom suggesting “an ill tongue may do much.”

CUHK protest
Photo: CUHK.

Sung was one of the ten universities heads who issued a joint statement against Hong Kong independence, which said: “We treasure freedom of expression, but we condemn its recent abuses. Freedom of expression is not absolute, and like all freedoms it comes with responsibilities. All universities undersigned agree that we do not support Hong Kong independence, which contravenes the Basic Law.”

Sung will be replaced by biotechnology expert Rocky Tuan next year.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.