On January 26, 2018, Hong Kong Baptist University announced the suspensions of two students who had been engaged in a nonviolent, on-campus protest earlier in January.
Several hundred students had gathered on campus to protest the policy of a Mandarin language proficiency exam being required in order for students to graduate. The students reportedly expressed strong political objections to a Mandarin requirement that they believed was too demanding, in light of the fact that, while Mandarin is the official language of mainland China, Hong Kong’s official languages are Cantonese and English.
Two students, Lau Tsz-kei and Andrew Chan Lok-hang, were suspended from the university, on the grounds that they engaged in “threatening” conduct during the course of the protest. One of the students reportedly used an expletive when arguing with a teacher, and the university alleged that the conduct made staff feel “threatened and insulted.” Publicly available information does not appear to suggest that Lau or Chan directly threatened (or attempted to use violence against) any of the staff they engaged with during the protest. Nevertheless, they were temporarily suspended pending the outcome of a disciplinary proceeding. The suspension has sparked further protests involving hundreds of university students on campus.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about disproportionate disciplinary actions in retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to academic freedom or free speech on campus. While university authorities have a legitimate interest in maintaining order on campus, they must do so with due regard for the rights to free speech, academic freedom, the right to education and due process. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.