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: July 13, 2021

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):University of Hong Kong

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | Hong Kong 

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On July 13, 2021, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) administration derecognized the University of Hong Kong Student Union (HKUSU).

In April 2021, HKU ended its official relationship with the student union for its public expressions regarding political developments in Hong Kong and the university administration. As a result of the university’s action, HKU would no longer collect membership fees or offer university buildings and services to the group, although the organization was still permitted to conduct activities on campus (see report).

On July 1, Leung Kin-fai, a 50-year-old Hong Kong resident, attacked a police officer with a knife and then proceeded to stab and kill himself outside of a Hong Kong department store. The motivation for the attack is unknown. On July 7, HKUSU, which has over 17,000 active members, passed a motion expressing “deep sadness” at the death of Kin-fai, and calling his suicide a “sacrifice to Hong Kong.”

On July 8, the HKU administration released a statement on its website condemning HKUSU’s response to the suicide as an attempt to “whitewash violence and violent attacks.” On July 9, HKUSU President Kwok Wing-ho said in a press conference that the motion passed by the student union was “extremely inappropriate,” that the union did not wish to promote unlawful behavior, and that the union’s executive committee would be resigning. Following the student leaders’ resignation, Hong Kong’s eight public universities issued a joint statement condemning the student union’s support of acts of “terror and violence.”

Several days later, on July 13, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam criticized the student union, saying she was ashamed and enraged at the actions of HKUSU. On the same day, the HKU administration released a statement on its website that the university would no longer recognize HKUSU as an independent registered association on campus, and condemned the student union for “challenging the moral bottom line of [our] society and damaging the reputation and interests of the entire HKU community.”

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the imposition of administrative sanction against a student union and its members, apparently intended to retaliate against nonviolent political expression. University authorities must refrain from retaliating against nonviolent expression so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, punishment aimed at restricting or retaliating against such expression undermines academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.