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: April 24, 2020

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Education University of Hong Kong

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | Hong Kong 

New or Ongoing:New Incident

In April 2020, Sam Choi Chun-wai, a lecturer of the Department of Asian and Policy Studies at the Education University of Hong Kong (EduHK), was subjected to official pressure by police and administrative authorities after he publicly criticized the police force for its handling of the anti-government protests in Hong Kong in 2019.  

In Pentaprism, a talk show produced by the Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) which was aired in November 2019, Mr. Choi criticised police brutality during the sieges of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), referring to the police violence on university campuses as a “humanitarian crisis” and likening the PolyU incident to the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. 

On April 20, 2020, the Hong Kong Communications Authority ruled that Mr. Choi’s speech was a form of “hate speech”, finding that it potentially incited a backlash against the police. It added that it had “seriously warned” RTHK to observe more closely the relevant provisions in the TV Programme Code. RTHK has since removed videos of the speech from its platforms, saying it respected the watchdog’s decision. 

Following the Communications Authority’s ruling, Police Commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung sent a letter to the President of EduHK noting that Mr. Choi had made a speech “hostile to the police force” in his capacity as a lecturer at the university’s Department of Asian and Policy Studies. He told the President “for the well-being of your students, I hope you can seriously follow up on the incident and ensure your teachers’ conduct is professional.” His letter to the President was also sent to the Secretaries of the Security Bureau and Education Bureau, the Chairman of EduHK Council and the Chairman of the Communions Authority.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about efforts by police and administrative authorities to restrict or retaliate for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression, conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Hong Kong is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from restricting nonviolent expression or speech. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.