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: August 15, 2019

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Education University of Hong Kong | Hong Kong Baptist University | University of Hong Kong

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | Hong Kong 

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 15, three student leaders from Hong Kong Baptist University, the University of Hong Kong, and the Education University of Hong Kong reported that they had been targeted with death threats and harassment in apparent retaliation for their participation in a protest movement.

In June 2019, students and activists across Hong Kong began holding protests over a extradition bill introduced by the Hong Kong government in February 2019. If signed into law, the bill would allow the Hong Kong government to arrange extraditions of criminal suspects to countries or territories with which Hong Kong does not have an existing agreement, including mainland China. Demonstrators’ aims have extended to criticism of the current Hong Kong government and demands for democratic reforms.

The protests, largely organized and driven by university students, have for the most part been peaceful, with demonstrators marching in the streets, chanting, and engaging in sit-ins in major public spaces. In a number of instances, however, tensions between police and protesters have escalated, leading to violent clashes between the two groups. Media and rights groups have reported that police have used excessive force against protesters, firing tear gas and rubber bullets, and at times attacking nonviolent demonstrators. Reports also indicate that groups of apparently pro-Beijing counter-protesters have attacked those protesting the extradition bill.

In an August 15 press conference, representatives of three student unions in Hong Kong announced that they had recently been targeted by violent threats and harassment in connection with the protest movement. While the specific motivation behind the threats targeting the student union representatives is unclear, sources suggest that they the threats may have been sparked by reports that the student unions offered financial and legal assistance to protesters arrested by police.

Hong Kong Baptist University student union vice president Leung Siu-yuk reported that she received a Facebook message from a stranger on August 14 threatening to go to her home and speak with her family if she and the student union continued to support the protests. The message reportedly included her home address and the names of her family members. On the same day as the press conference, Leung learned that posters containing her personal information and death threats against her were posted around her neighborhood.

Education University of Hong Kong student union president Leung Yiu-ting reported that similar posters revealing his personal information appeared near his home that same day. Leung also reported that several unidentified individuals came to his home and asked his family if he was living there.

University of Hong Kong student union council representative Pang Ka-ho reported that he had received several threatening messages, including death threats against his family, through the encrypted messaging application Telegram. Pang’s family also reportedly received a threatening phone call.

The students have reported the threats to the police. As of this report, there is no public information indicating the status or results of a police investigation into the threats.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about apparently coordinated, violent threats against students, intended to retaliate against and restrict the non-violent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association. State authorities have an obligation to ensure the safety of students, to investigate threats, and to hold perpetrators accountable. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such acts undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.