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: October 30, 2023

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Hang Seng University of Hong Kong

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 30, 2023, Hang Seng University of Hong Kong canceled a lecture by James Frankel, a professor at the Department of Culture and Religious Studies at the University of China, titled “Gaza Humanitarian Crisis – Save the Children of Gaza.” It is unclear who made the decision to cancel the event or why.

The event’s cancellation occurred against the backdrop of a Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, during which over 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals were killed and more than 200 abducted, and the Israeli military’s subsequent bombardment of the Gaza Strip which, as of the end of November, has reportedly killed approximately 15,000 Palestinians. The violence led to heightened tensions around speech on campuses around the world.

A non-Chinese speaking and ethnic minority student organization, EMPower, and an inter-religious group, “United for Free Palestine” (UFP) had co-organized the event. Only students were to be allowed to attend the event on campus, but the live online broadcast was set to be open to the public.

Frankel, who also goes by Fu Jianshi, posted on Facebook that Professor Simon HO Shun Man,Hang Seng University’s president, informed him on the day of the event that it had been canceled. He noted that no reason was given for the cancellation but that he had received an email the previous night that suggested that members from the local Jewish community were planning to disrupt the event to combat “Palestinian propaganda.”

A spokesperson for the university said that they “received notification” that the lecture was suspended, but did not clarify whether the principal requested the cancellation or explained the reason for the cancellation.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the cancellation of a planned academic talk apparently because of public pressure. Members of the public have a responsibility to refrain from interfering in the functioning of higher education. Higher education officials should protect academic freedom and take all available steps to ensure the exercise of academic freedom, including during on-campus, academic events. The disinvitation of speakers because of public pressure undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.