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: October 06, 2019

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Other

Institution(s):Chinese University of Hong Kong

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | Hong Kong 

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 6, 2019, riot police reportedly detained five students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in connection with their expressive activity.

Since April 2019, Hong Kong has been engulfed in protests, first sparked by a controversial bill (that has since been withdrawn) and over time in response to the leadership of the pro-Beijing chief executive Carrie Lam and the police, which have frequently used excessive force against protesters. Students and other young Hong Kongers have been at the forefront of the protest movement.

On October 4, chief executive Lam used emergency powers to enact a law that would ban the use of masks in public demonstrations. Protesters have used masks and other face coverings to conceal their identity. Violating the ban can result in one year imprisonment or a fine of HK $25,000 (USD $3,188). The mask ban quickly escalated tensions and was followed by a weekend of demonstrations marked by vandalism and violent clashes between police and protesters.

On October 6, as many as forty riot police officers arrived on the CUHK campus and carried out a search for suspects involved in vandalism that had been reported at a nearby subway station. During the raid, officers took into custody five students found putting up posters related to the ongoing protests. Police did not disclose any evidence indicating a connection between the detained students and the alleged vandalism. Authorities released the students later that day.

Soon after the incident, the student union of CUHK’s Chung Chi College condemned the police raid, claiming that the police did not have a warrant or the consent of university officials to search campus. CUHK’s administration also expressed concern over the police action, and asked police to contact university officials before before entering campus.

Sources indicate that similar events took place that day at Baptist University

Scholars at Risk is concerned about a police raid on campus without a warrant and the arbitrary detention of students in connection with peaceful expressive activity — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Hong Kong is a party. While state authorities have a responsibility to maintain security and order, they have an obligation to refrain from restricting or retaliating against nonviolent expressive activity. Campus raids and arbitrary detentions of students undermine institutional autonomy, academic freedom, and democratic society generally.