On July 24, 2019, violent clashes broke out between opposing groups of students during a protest held at the University of Queensland over democracy and human rights concerns in Hong Kong and mainland China.
A group of students at UQ, which apparently included many Hong Kong international students, organized the demonstration to protest human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in mainland China, particularly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and a controversial extradition bill introduced by the Hong Kong government in February 2019. The students prepared makeshift “Lennon Walls” made of cardboard, on which they posted pro-democracy and human rights messages, a similar tactic found on Hong Kong campuses.
Shortly after the students began demonstrating outside UQ’s Great Court, a large group of counter-protesters, described by sources as being pro-Beijing, assembled and confronted them. The counter-protesters reportedly yelled insults, destroyed the opposing protesters’ signs, and held speakers playing the Chinese national anthem. At various points, physical altercations—apparently provoked by pro-Beijing protesters—broke out between students from opposing sides, with several students reportedly punched and shoved. UQ security on the scene called police, who separated the groups. Four hours into the protest, the two sides left scene. As of this report, there are no reports of arrests or injuries.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violent clashes between students during a campus protest. While students have the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they have an obligation to exercise these rights peacefully and responsibly. Such incidents endanger members of the campus community and undermine institutional autonomy and democratic society generally.