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: January 11, 2018

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | Hong Kong 

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On January 11, 2018, Dr. Cheng Chung-tai (鄭松泰), a legislator and teaching fellow at the Department of Applied Social Science of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, was effectively dismissed from his position, after being convicted in connection with public expression of a political viewpoint during a legislative session.

During an October 2016 legislative meeting, Dr. Cheng turned upside down miniature Chinese and regional flags that were sitting on the desks of pro-Beijing legislators, to protest the legislators’ decision to walk out of the meeting, making it impossible for a group of opposition lawmakers to take their oaths of office. Dr. Cheng was subsequently charged with the crime of desecrating the flag; he was found guilty in September 2017, and received a HK$5,000 fine (about $640 US dollars).

In October 2017, following his conviction, the university had initiated disciplinary proceedings against Dr. Cheng. According to Dr Cheng, he received a letter in early 2018, indicating that the university had decided not to renew his teaching contract because his “conduct and convictions [were] inconsistent with the university’s commitment to quality education and aspiration to embrace internationalisation.”  His contract would be allowed to expire in June of 2018; additionally, Dr. Cheng reported that he would be relieved of his teaching duties for the spring semester.

In responding to the university’s action, Dr. Cheng has noted that his dismissal was unrelated to his teaching performance. In addition, he alleged that the university’s decision was based on a set of staff conduct guidelines established after the relevant conduct – one day before the ruling in his flag desecration case was issued. Finally Dr. Cheng pointed out that the disciplinary committee had held four meetings in his absence, deeming his presence ‘unnecessary’. As a result, Dr. Cheng was given no chance to defend himself in front of the panel.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the effective termination of a scholar in retaliation 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 actions of expression.


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Pro-Beijing lawmaker reports localist’s flag-flipping to police, urges prosecution

Lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai’s Poly U teaching contract not renewed after flag-turning conviction