A former student of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) says the school is “still besieged” a year after violent clashes erupted on its campus during last year’s citywide protests.
The Hung Hom-based university turned into one of the most brutal battlefields between police and pro-democracy demonstrators last November, leaving more than 300 people hospitalised and over 1,300 arrested.
It was surrounded on all sides by riot police for almost two weeks, as some protesters were holed up inside the red-brick campus, while others “surrendered” themselves to the authorities. Some took desperate measures to flee the university by climbing down ropes or escaping through underground sewers.
Police said at the time that anyone who entered or remained on the campus and assisted protesters might risk committing the offence of rioting. In May, 14 people were charged with taking part in a riot in relation to the campus unrest; one individual remains wanted.
One year on, PolyU graduate Chan, who only wished to be identified by his last name, told HKFP on Tuesday that he felt that the university was still “under siege.” But instead of being beleaguered by police officers, water cannon trucks and unimog vehicles, PolyU now sees itself encircled by yellow barriers, metal fences and a legion of security guards.
“Did the PolyU siege end [last November]? No, the university is still besieged. It’s just replaced by water-filled barricades and security guards,” the 22 year-old said.
The university stepped up its security measures after last year’s turmoil. The formerly open campus now restricts members of the public from entry, as students, staff and registered visitors are required to show their cards or passes at the electronic gates at various entrances.
Each gateway is also guarded by at least one security person, while it is difficult to get a view of the university from outside as there are tall barriers and barbed wire erected around the outside of the campus.
Chan, who graduated from the university this year, said he returned to the site this week to make a “on this day last year” photo series. He and his friends tried to gather a “before and after” photography series by retracing the protest hotspots from last year. Chan said security guards had checked his student card multiple times as he was snapping around the university.
“I was just taking photos inside my school – why did it feel like I was being stopped and searched by police at protest scenes? Is this a school, or a prison?” Chan asked.
The fresh graduate added he could still enter the university with his student ID for now, but it will expire by the end of this year. Chan said it is “absurd” that alumni like himself are not allowed to visit the campus without registration.
On Tuesday, the PolyU Students’ Union marked one year since the siege by saying it was “out of imagination” that universities in Hong Kong would become battlefields during the last year’s large-scale unrest.
“Hongkongers initiated rescues around the district and showcased their unity. To this day, some of the martyrs are still detained and suffering,” the student union said on Facebook.
The student body cited the Beijing-imposed national security law, which outlaws secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts – broadly defined to include disruption to public transport and other infrastructure. It said the legislation has “ebbed” the passion of protesters, but said Hongkongers should fight on for their freedom and rights.
“As November marks the first anniversary of the siege of PolyU, we shall all uphold the courage and faith of fighting against injustice. The darkest hour is just before dawn. Let the ray of hopes in our mind brighten up the tragic days,” it said.