On November 11, 2019, several days of intense, violent clashes between police and protesters began as police carried out raids on the campuses of several of Hong Kong’s major universities.
Since April 2019, Hong Kong has been engulfed in protests, first sparked by a controversial bill (that has since been withdrawn) and, over time, in response to the leadership of Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam; excessive force and other actions of the Hong Kong police; and concerns that democratic society is shrinking in Hong Kong. Students and other young Hong Kongers, including secondary school students, have been at the forefront of the largely peaceful protest movement.
On November 8, news broke that a university student died as a result of injuries sustained during a protest earlier that week. Reports indicate that clashes between police and protesters then intensified. Many protesters, including students and non-students, relocated to university campuses, apparently to seek shelter from the police violence and to continue their protest activities. Sources indicate that some protesters used desks, chairs, and other materials to erect makeshift blockades. Hong Kong’s universities decided to cancel academic activities scheduled the following week as a result of the protests.
On the morning of November 11, police raided the campuses of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), the University of Hong Kong (HKU), and Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU). Police were reportedly responding to off-campus incidents that they allege involved protesters, including a fire at a metro station near HKU.
At CUHK, protesters reportedly set fire to objects at key entrances to the university in order to block police from entering; protesters at PolyU also blocked campus entrances. Police launched tear gas as they entered the CUHK and PolyU campuses, and over the course of several days, fired hundreds of rounds of rubber bullets and sponge grenades at protesters. Sources indicate that some of the protesters defended themselves by throwing gasoline bombs and bricks, and firing flaming arrows at police.
On November 13, CUHK’s administration announced that it would cancel on-campus academic activities for the remainder of the semester and would resume activities in January 2020. Similar announcements were made by other Hong Kong universities. The announcements coincided with reports that governments and universities outside Hong Kong, including state authorities in Beijing and Taiwan, were working to evacuate international students from the region.
As of November 15, protesters had reportedly largely vacated the campus of CUHK, while protesters remained at PolyU (see report) and HKU as police continued to lay siege. Sources indicate that hundreds were injured as a result of the violent clashes, including students, journalists, and individuals providing medical assistance, and that an unknown number of protesters were arrested.
Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned about police raids and extensive violence on Hong Kong’s university campuses. While state authorities have a responsibility to maintain order and safety, they also have an obligation to exercise restraint and to ensure that their actions de-escalate rather than incite violence; do not endanger students, personnel, and others on campus; and respect universities’ institutional autonomy and the right to freedom of expression and association on campus. Likewise, while students and others have a right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they also have a responsibility to exercise those rights peacefully and responsibly. Violence, including especially clashes between police and protesters, threatens the safety of campus communities and undermines institutional autonomy and democratic society generally.
SAR calls on all parties, especially government and university authorities, to take immediate steps to de-escalate violence and to ensure the safety and well-being of all persons, including protesters. SAR further calls on authorities to ensure the due process rights of all persons in any investigations or proceedings arising out of the protests, including protesters and security forces, and to ensure the well-being of those in custody, including guaranteeing access to counsel, medical treatment, and family.
NOTE: Given the ongoing nature of recent protests in Hong Kong, updates may be made to the above report to reflect new reporting by media outlets and human rights groups.
UPDATE: On September 3, 2021, five Chinese University of Hong Kong students arrested during the November 11 protests were convicted of rioting and violating a ban on wearing masks at public gatherings.