SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: April 12, 2016

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Lingnan University

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | Hong Kong 

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 12, 2016, Prof. Horace Chin Wan-kan(陳雲根), an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chinese at Lingnan University, was informed that his tenure would not be renewed upon its expiration later that year, in apparent retaliation for his public political activism.

Prof. Chin was the author of On the Hong Kong City-State series, a local best seller advocating full sovereignty for the city. The series has been widely credited with inspiring the autonomy movement as well as the emergence of localism, and thus earning him the title of “Godfather of Localism.” In addition, Prof. Chin had been actively involved in the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests , now commonly known as the “Umbrella movement.”

Prior his dismissal, Professor Chin had been openly admonished by the university. On March 16, 2015, he received a warning letter from the university’s Vice-chancellor, Leonard Cheng Kwok Hon(鄭國漢)who alleged that Professor Chin’s political speeches had harmed the reputation of the university and that he should “mind [his] words” or “suffer the consequences.” In the letter, Cheng wrote: “The university safeguards the freedom of academics and of speech, and respects the right to express opinions enjoyed by the staff, but some of your words and behavior over the past few years contradicted your status as a scholar, and went beyond the bottom line of the limit of speech freedom.”

In response to the University’s action, Prof. Chin had noted that his dismissal was unrelated to his performance, as he had passed the university’s appraisal on both teaching and research performance. He alleged that the university’ s decision was due to political pressure, stating “I am being forced out of the campus because of criticizing the Hong Kong communist government and supporting the Occupy Mong Kok movements in 2014” and subsequently declared himself the “first academic casualty after Occupy.”

The university’s spokesman refused to comment on Prof. Chin’s dismissal, and no reasons were given in the termination letter issued by the University’s human resources office.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about professional retaliation against a scholar for the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally. Universities have a responsibility to refrain from wrongful disciplinary action in retaliation for nonviolent expression.