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 16, 2021

Attack Types: Prosecution

Institution(s):University of Hong Kong

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | Hong Kong 

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On July 16, 2021, Hong Kong national security police commenced a criminal investigation of the University of Hong Kong Student Union (HKUSU) after it was punished by the university for public comments about recent political events.

On July 13, Hong Kong University (HKU) announced that it would no longer recognize HKUSU as an independent registered association on campus after the union passed a resolution expressing “deep sadness” over the death of Leung Kin-fai, a Hong Kong resident who attacked a police officer and then killed himself. HKU criticized the student union for its attempt to “whitewash violence and violent attacks.” 

With permission from HKU and a search warrant, national security police entered a building on HKU’s campus housing the HKUSU headquarters, in addition to campus media. Police officers cordoned off the office, with no students inside, purportedly to collect evidence as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into whether any members of HKUSU had breached Article 27 of the National Security Law, which criminalizes “advocat[ing] terrorism or incit[ing] the commission of a terrorist activity.”

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the criminal investigation of a student organization based on the nonviolent exercise of its members’ right to free 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. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from engaging in criminal investigations targeting nonviolent expression activity. Such actions undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.