Last Saturday, I went to Cambridge University to speak at a protest demanding the withdrawal of Carrie Lam’s honorary fellowship at Wolfson College. I had the privilege of joining a delegation that had flown to Britain from Hong Kong for this purpose – courageous students, alumni and recently elected district councillors.
Why bother? In my day job, I work on human rights in mainland China, especially the crisis in Xinjiang, the crackdown on Christianity, organ harvesting, wider repression, as well as Burma, North Korea and Indonesia. Isn’t the removal of an honorary fellowship a low priority, perhaps even a petty act, in the great scheme of things?
The key is in the word “honour.” Over the past six months, it has become abundantly clear that there is one single person responsible for the crisis that has engulfed Hong Kong today, and that is the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam. And she has no honour, except the ones that are bestowed upon her and which she does not deserve.
A person who proposes a law that would destroy the firewall created between one of the world’s most respected legal systems, where trust in the independence of the judiciary, fair trial and the rule of law has remained, at least until recently, high, and one of the world’s most unjust legal systems, in which there is no such thing as fair trial or judicial independence, where “rule of law” is replaced by “rule by law,” where arbitrary arrests, disappearances, torture and executions are everyday occurrences, is not worthy of an honorary fellowship at one of the world’s great universities.
Moreover, a person who refuses to listen to the legal sector, chambers of commerce, the US Secretary of State, the European Union, the British and Canadian Foreign Ministers and a million Hongkongers, followed by two million, marching peacefully, is not worthy of an honorary fellowship.
Most of all, a person who orders the police to attack students in the very universities of which she herself is Chancellor is not worthy of an honorary fellowship.
Last month, Ms Lam’s police force fired 1,567 rounds of teargas and 1,312 rubber bullets into the Chinese University of Hong Kong, injuring at least 119 students. The Vice-Chancellor of the university was himself hit by teargas as he approached the police to try to negotiate a peaceful resolution.
And then at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the siege from November 13 to 29 led to severe physical injuries and mental trauma for more than 1,000 students and supporters trapped inside the campus. Even voluntary medical workers trying to assist those who needed help were arrested and attacked by the police, as Dr Darren Mann has so courageously documented in the world’s leading medical journal, The Lancet.
More than 3,700 academics from around the world have spoken out in condemnation of the shocking police violence in Hong Kong in recent weeks. And Michele Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has called for “a proper independent and impartial judge-led investigation into reports of excessive force by the police.” Yet Ms Lam has rejected these calls.
After the terrible genocide of the Rohingyas in Myanmar, a bandwagon developed calling for the removal of Aung San Suu Kyi’s honours and awards around the world. Her portrait was removed from her old Oxford University college, St Hugh’s.
Yet Ms Suu Kyi, while she failed to condemn such horrific crimes and, more recently, has actively defended her government’s record, was not the perpetrator of genocide. She didn’t order the troops to kill, rape, torture and burn.
The atrocities in Hong Kong are not of the same order. But only those who do not know the Chinese Communist Party, or are ignorant of Xinjiang’s “re-education” camps, could deny that the regime is capable of committing atrocities en masse. And Ms Lam, unlike Ms Suu Kyi, has defended police entering the campuses, condoned their actions and rejected calls for an independent inquiry.
If Ms Suu Kyi’s honours and portraits can be removed, isn’t it even more justified to strip Ms Lam of hers?
Last month, Anglia Ruskin University stripped pro-Beijing legislator Junius Ho of his honorary doctorate and rightly so. Mr Ho, with his triad bodyguards, is more cartoon gangster than Ms Lam, but nonetheless his case sets a precedent. And earlier this month, despite intimidation by mainland Chinese students, Sheffield University’s student union passed a resolution in support of Hong Kong democracy.
Last month, three members of the House of Lords wrote to the President of Wolfson College, urging her to remove Ms Lam’s honorary fellowship. The President has rejected the appeal. Last Saturday, when Hongkongers who had flown to Britain to deliver a letter to her came to the gates of Wolfson College, they were met by student union representatives but not by any faculty or administration officials. Shameful.
Does a person who actively destroys her city’s fabric, who is directly responsible for the erosion of her city’s freedoms, who undermines the institutional autonomy and, more importantly, the human security of students in universities for which she is responsible, and who single-handedly plunged her city into the greatest conflict in its history, resulting in loss of life and thousands of injuries and deep trauma, deserve an honorary fellowship at one of the world’s great universities?
I think not. And that’s why I went to Cambridge University last Saturday to say so.
Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Chairman of Hong Kong Watch.