Four University of Hong Kong (HKU) student leaders have been arrested by national security police over allegedly advocating terrorism in a motion they passed that mourned for a man who stabbed a police officer on July 1 and subsequently committed suicide.

Charles Kwok Wing-ho (middle), president of the University of Hong Kong Student Union. Photo: Stand News.

Student Union Council Chairperson Kinson Cheung King-sang, council member Anthony Yung and student union former Chairperson Charles Kwok Wing-ho were taken from their residences by police on Wednesday morning, a source with direct knowledge of the arrests told HKFP. A fourth person arrested was a former student residence representative on the Union Council, Chris Todorovski, the HKU Student Union’s news outlet Undergrad reported.

Kwok, Yung and Todorovski will be charged with allegedly advocating terrorism, sources told HKFP. They will appear at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Thursday morning.

Police confirmed they arrested four men between 18 and 20 years old. They were members of HKU’s Student Union executive committee and its Union Council, according to national security police senior superintendent Steve Li.

Three other students — including the heads of Undergrad and HKU’s CampusTV — were also taken in by police to assist with investigations.

Apology and withdrawal

The HKU Students’ Union Council passed a motion in early July to “express deep sadness” at the death of Leung Kin-fai, a 50-year-old man who committed suicide after attacking and seriously injuring a police officer on July 1, the 24th anniversary of the city’s handover. The council also praised Leung’s “sacrifice.”

The student union’s declaration drew fierce criticism from Chief Executive Carrie Lam, university management, the pro-government camp, and Security Bureau officials. The latter said mourning the knife attacker was akin to terrorism. It prompted the student leaders to withdraw the statement, apologise and resign.

police officer stabbed stabbing sogo july 1 2021
Leung Kin-fai, shortly after he stabbed a police officer and himself on July 1, 2021. File Photo: Ryan Lai/CitizenNews.

The retraction of the statement, however, did not stop national security police from launching an investigation into the student body and raiding its premises the following week as the city’s leader called for “further action” against the students involved. They were later banned from entering campus, before disciplinary proceedings took place.

Police found CCTV footage, meeting minutes and computers during their raid, Li said. He said that the meeting began with a moment of silence in memory of Leung, and one member suggested praising the act Leung had committed, his “bravery,” and formalising it with a motion in the Student Union’s records.

The motion was voted for by 30 people, with two abstentions and no objections, Li said. The motion was then announced on the Union Council’s social media immediately afterwards.

‘Praising’ terrorism

Police intend to meet with other attendees “to understand their roles” in the meeting, Li said. He also said Leung’s attack is now considered an act of terrorism.

“What constitutes ‘advocating’ [terrorism]? It is quite easy to understand, but to help our law enforcement, we have a more detailed description, which includes either to praise, to defend for or to promote these ideas,” he said. “In the whole debate on this motion, there was a lot of praising, defending and promotion.”

“Discussing this event is not banned, but using the discussion as an occasion to praise these acts are not accepted,” he said. “If you call him a brave man or said he contributed to something in society, there’s a risk of violating article 27 of the national security law.”

Senior Superintendent Steve Li
Senior Superintendent of the Police National Security Department Steve Li meeting the press on August 18, 2021. Photo: Hong Kong Police, via Facebook screenshot.

“This motion was appalling in that it justified, beautified and glorified terrorism and also indiscriminate attacks, and encouraged suicide. This runs contrary to our usual moral values.”

Mourning terrorist acts would lead to suspicion that one agrees with or glorifies them, he said. Individuals intending to do so “should reconsider.”

In response to reporters’ questions over people who publicly supported the Yuen Long mob attackers and defended their actions, Li said the case was not under his purview and therefore he had no comment about it.

An HKU spokesperson said in a statement that it would not comment on a case under investigation.

💡If you are in need of support, please call: The Samaritans 2896 0000 (24-hour, multilingual), Suicide Prevention Centre 2382 0000 or the Social Welfare Department 2343 2255. The Hong Kong Society of Counselling and Psychology provides a WhatsApp hotline in English and Chinese: 6218 1084. See also: HKFP’s comprehensive guide to mental health services in Hong Kong.

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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.