Academic groups have criticised Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s decision not to renew Civic Passion lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai’s teaching contract after he was convicted of flag desecration last September.

The 34-year-old was fined HK$5,000 at the Eastern Magistrates’ Court for turning miniature Chinese and Hong Kong flags upside down during a legislative session in October 2016.

The Confederation of Tertiary Institutes Staff Unions – which comprises seven staff unions at six local institutions – said in a statement on Monday that the reasons given by the university “lacked persuasiveness.” They expressed concern as to whether the decision was based on “political considerations.”

Cheng Chung-tai
Cheng Chung-tai. File photo: In-Media.

According to Cheng, the disciplinary letter said that his “conduct and convictions are inconsistent with the university’s commitment to quality education and aspiration to embrace internationalisation.”

The group demanded that the university withdraw the decision and allow Cheng to attend a hearing so as to defend himself. They also said that the decision is too harsh and disproportionate. “It harms freedom of expression and triggers a chilling effect.”

“The pro-establishment camp keeps calling for tolerance when a top official makes a mistake and to give them space to make corrections; they also emphasis that it has nothing to do with one’s working abilities. However, it actively seeks to persecute the opposition camp – is there any justice left in a society like this?”

Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Photo: PolyU.

In an equally strongly-worded statement, the Progressive Scholars Group said on Monday that the disciplinary process “clearly violates procedural propriety” and demanded that the school reinitiate proceedings to allow Cheng to make oral and written submissions, as well as be represented by a lawyer.

The group cited Articles 27, 35 and 39 of the Basic Law, which guarantee Hong Kong residents freedom of speech, the right to legal advice and representation, and protection under international human rights treaties.

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The group also said that many university staff members who took part in the Occupy protests in 2014 are facing prosecution. It urged the school to deal with the cases fairly, in order to protect the relevant individuals’ legal rights.

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.