On June 28, 2016, Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) launched disciplinary proceedings against Lau Siu-lai, a scholar of communication and social sciences at PolyU, in connection to a solidarity protest she led in support of street vendors seeking to avoid eviction during the Lunar New Year.
On February 7, 2016, Professor Lau acted as a food hawker at the Kweilin Street Night Market in an effort to peacefully express solidarity with local vendors who were facing eviction. Ten minutes after she began hawking, police officers reportedly arrested Professor Lau for “obstructing a public place” and for “hawking and cooking food without a license.” Professor Lau was later convicted on these charges and fined HK $1,800 (approximately US $232.00). Professor Lau donated the HK $10 (approximately US $1.20) she earned as a hawker to an organization she founded with others to offer free teaching about democratic ideals.
On June 28, PolyU’s Deputy Dean reportedly sent a formal notice to Professor Lau announcing disciplinary proceedings against her in connection to the February 7 “moonlighting” activity. Professor Lau has stated that she does not dispute that she acted as a hawker, but contends that the university’s prohibition on moonlighting applies only to full-time staff, rather than to part-time lecturers such as herself. Professor Lau further claims that the disciplinary proceedings are the result of political pressure from PolyU’s governing council. Pending the decision of a disciplinary panel investigating the incident, Professor Lau could face dismissal, the highest penalty that may be imposed by a PolyU disciplinary panel. A first hearing was scheduled for July 12.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about disciplinary proceedings against a scholar in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and association. State and university authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with the peaceful exercise of the rights to academic freedom, freedom of expression or association, so long as those activities are undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Retaliatory disciplinary proceedings aimed at limiting such activities harm academic freedom and related values including university autonomy.