Newly elected student union leaders at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) have accused the university of trampling on popular opinion after CUHK management severed ties with the union, due to allegedly false statements and possible breaches of the national security law.

CUHKSU Student union press conference
Photo: via CC2.0.

Issac Lam Yui-hei, president of the student union cabinet known as “Syzygia,” said early on Friday that the university’s decision was unprecedented.

“The decision to arbitrarily strip us of office not only stripped the 12 Syzygia members of their responsibility, but also rejected a popular mandate supported by 4,000 students,” Lam said, noting that the cabinet received a 99 per cent approval in an election that saw record turnout.

“Those in positions of authority must know that popular opinion is to be respected, not to be stepped on,” he said.

The cabinet received 3,983 votes in favour and 41 against in an election with a 23 per cent turnout.

Hours after the group won the election to become the next student union executive committee, CUHK’s management in a statement Thursday evening reiterated objections to the group’s election platform.

The university said it would stop collecting fees on behalf of the student union, stop providing venues for its activities, withhold administrative support, suspend its members from their positions on all university committees, and require it to register as an independent body and assume legal responsibility for itself.

It said it would would take further action “if deemed necessary.”

CUHKSU Student union press conference
Photo: via CC2.0.

The decisions were made after the cabinet failed to clarify “potentially unlawful statements,” made false allegations against the university, and “exploited the campus for their political propaganda,” the statement read.

“The University will not tolerate any behaviour on campus that may endanger national security,” it read. “Disciplinary actions will be taken on any student who incites unlawful behaviour, which may lead to sanctions including suspension of studies or expulsion from the University.”

However, Lam said the school had failed to give examples of what it termed unlawful statements or false allegations.

Tensions between students and management have been increasing in recent months, after national security police made several arrests in response to on-campus protests at which students displayed slogans banned by the national security law.

Some students were concerned about security checks instituted after violent clashes erupted on campus in 2019 amid the city-wide pro-democracy protests.

The school has repeatedly said it would cooperate with police and warned of “strict penalties” against students and student bodies who endanger national security.

CUHK student union syzygia members bow
Photo: Stand News screenshot.

The student union cabinet members bowed in apology at their press briefing for failing to fulfil promises. “We will not stop our pursuit for democracy and freedom in the face of oppression and threats. This is our solemn promise,” Lam said.

Alumni petition

CUHK alumni and former presidents of its student unions, including activists Eric Lai and Johnson Yeung, have called upon former union members to sign an online petition to protest at the university’s decision. According to the petition website, there were over 2,000 signatures as of Friday morning.

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.