Academic freedom dies in Hong Kong

Domestic News

Two universities in Hong Kong have gotten rid of faculty that have links to protests. Benny Tai, the co-founder of the Occupy protest movement, called his firing “the end of academic freedom in Hong Kong.”

benny tai
Benny Tai, who was sacked today from his tenured position at the University of Hong Kong for protest activities. Reuters/Anna Wang.

Universities in Hong Kong have begun to slough off faculty who are politically outspoken, less than a month after Beijing imposed a national security law on the city, greatly heightening the fear of crossing vaguely defined red lines across civil society.

First was outgoing opposition lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun (邵家臻 Shào Jiāzhēn), who was told on July 27 that his lecturing contract with Hong Kong Baptist University would not be renewed, the South China Morning Post reports.

  • Shiu had been found guilty of “incitement to commit public nuisance and incitement to incite public nuisance” for his role in the 2014 Occupy Central protests, and served a prison sentence that ended last October.
  • “Although I’m not too surprised, I can’t help feeling angry and disappointed,” Shiu said. “A publicly funded university has chosen to side with the authorities to suppress dissident views.”

Then, Benny Tai (戴耀廷 Dài Yàotíng), who co-founded the Occupy protest movement, was sacked on July 28 from his tenured position at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). The SCMP explains that the HKU council, composed mostly of members from outside the university, “reversed a recommendation by the university’s senate earlier this month that there were not enough grounds to dismiss him although his actions amounted to misconduct.”

Tai wrote of the decision on Facebook:

It marks the end of academic freedom in Hong Kong. Academic staff in education institutions in Hong Kong are no longer free to make controversial statements to the general public about politically or socially controversial matters. Academic institutions in Hong Kong cannot protect their members from internal and outside interference…

I am heartbroken to witness the demise of my beloved university.

For more on Benny Tai, see the New York Times — Hong Kong University to fire law professor who inspired protests — and a Twitter thread by researcher Lokman Tsui.

What’s next?

“The Hong Kong government may postpone the 2020 Legislative Council election amid the current wave of coronavirus infections, according to local media citing sources,” the Hong Kong Free Press reports.

The Hong Kong Economic Times and Citizen News reported that Chief Executive Carrie Lam is set to hold a special meeting with the Executive Council on Tuesday and may announce that the race will be postponed.

On Saturday, former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang suggested that the election could be delayed for at least a year.

In other Hong Kong news, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it would “suspend extradition and judiciary assistance treaties between its Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and Canada, Australia and Britain,” per Xinhua, as a retaliation for those countries suspending their extradition treaties with the city. Today, New Zealand followed the lead of Canada, Australia, and the U.K. in suspending its own extradition treaty with Hong Kong.