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: February 18, 2021

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Chinese University of Hong Kong

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | Hong Kong 

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On February 18, 2021, Hong Kong police arrested a Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) student for allegedly participating in a nonviolent campus protest.

The student, whose name was not disclosed in news reports, was arrested in Hong Kong after police stopped and searched him. He was reportedly “wanted” for allegedly participating in a graduation day protest on the CUHK campus, on November 19, 2020. While the university had moved commencement ceremonies online due to the coronavirus, a group of students organized a demonstration to mark the one-year since intense clashes between police and students broke out on campuses amidst months of pro-democracy protests. As many as ninety people participated in the graduation day protest, during which demonstrators wore black robes and masks, and carried banners and chanted slogans with pro-democracy and Hong Kong independence themes. University authorities reportedly called on the police to investigate the protest.

Police alleged that the student arrested on February 18 had “chant[ed] or display[ed] banners calling for revolution and the city’s independence,” according to the South China Morning Post. He is reportedly the ninth person to be arrested in connection to the graduation day protest.

Police brought the student to the National Security Department for questioning before releasing him on bail. According to the Hong Kong Free Press, the student stands accused of “participating in an unauthorized assembly” and “incitement to secession;” the latter falls under the new, controversial National Security Law, which China’s Central Government imposed on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on June 30, 2020. The student is expected to report to police in May 2021.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of a student for allegedly participating in a nonviolent campus protest — conduct that is expressly protected under 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 an obligation to refrain from restricting or retaliating against the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the impact on the immediate victim, arrests in response to such conduct undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.