The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has threatened tough penalties against students or student bodies which are deemed to “endanger national security” or “advocate or commit unlawful acts” in the coming academic year.

“The University… will not tolerate any campus activities that endanger national security,” it said in a statement released Wednesday.

“The University will not hesitate to impose strict penalties on University members who advocate or commit unlawful acts, including termination of the status or privileges of such members or organisations.”

Photo: Chong Fat via Wikicommons.

Last month, around eight masked individuals pushed down metal fences and threw white powder and eggs at security guards at the entrance of CUHK’s campus in protest at campus security measures. Former student union president Owen Au was later arrested along with two others over the incident.

The campus has been closed to the general public since the 2019 police siege, with only those who can show a student or alumni ID being allowed to enter.

“CUHK emphasises once again that the University takes a strong view against any unlawful activities and violations of campus regulations, and will cooperate with law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety of all University members,” its statement said.

‘Full compliance with the law’

The university also “strongly objected” to a manifesto by the proposed student cabinet for the coming academic year, saying it included “false allegations and possibly unlawful remarks.” The cabinet, which has not yet been officially voted in at CUHK, oversees the running of the student union.

“The University has repeatedly reminded its members that their activities, including expression of personal opinions, must be carried out in a manner that is rational and respectful of others, and in full compliance with the law,” it added.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Among the initiatives listed in the manifesto, the group vowed to continue its annual “siege of CUHK” retrospective exhibition, launch a “Write with you” pen-pal programme connecting students and imprisoned protesters, and oppose any attempt to introduce national security education on the campus.

The proposed student union cabinet hit back at university management on Thursday in a Facebook statement, accusing them of “destroying academic freedom and the freedom of speech” on campus.

It said it “deeply regretted” the statement, adding that management had damaged mutual trust between students and university authorities.

Last November, graduating CUHK students staged a pro-democracy protest on campus. Police later arrested eight individuals for shouting and displaying slogans banned under the national security law during the peaceful demonstration.

No student unions

There has been a significant decline in the number of student unions since the security law was introduced last June, with five of the city’s eight universities unable to elect a student representative body due to a lack of people willing to run.

Only CUHK and the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong had enough students to form a student union cabinet. In the case of the one student running for the University of Hong Kong’s student council, voter turnout was less than 10 per cent.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to public transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China.

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Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.