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: August 14, 2021

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):University of Hong Kong

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | Hong Kong 

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 14, 2021, Hong Kong police arrested four University of Hong Kong (HKU) student union members (HKUSU) after they attended a union meeting on July 7.

On July 13, HKU announced it would no longer recognize HKUSU as an independent registered association on campus after the union passed a July 7 resolution expressing “deep sadness” over the death of Leung Kin-fai, a Hong Kong resident who attacked a police officer and then killed himself. On July 16, Hong Kong national security police commenced a criminal investigation of HKUSU for breaching Article 27 of the National Security Law, which criminalizes “advocat[ing] terrorism or incit[ing] the commission of a terrorist activity,” (see report). On August 4, the HKU governing council banned the student leaders from campus (see report).

Following these actions, on August 14,  national security police arrested four student union leaders on suspicion of “advocating terrorism.” The individuals arrested included the student union’s president, Charles Kwok Wing-ho, chairman, Kinson Cheung King-sang, and two other representatives, Anthony Yung Chung-hei and Chris Shing-hang Todorovski. The students had all attended the July 7 student union meeting.

At a press briefing, senior superintendent of the National Security Department Li Kwai-Wah said the student union’s language in the July 7 resolution, “rationalizes, beautifies and glorifies terrorism.”

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of students for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression — 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. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting or retaliating against students’ exercise of the right to freedom of expression, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, arrests and other legal actions restricting or retaliating against student expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.