Updated: May 13, 2020
Hong Kong’s universities, long a beacon of academic freedom, are under threat and risk losing their autonomy.
On November 18, 2019, police forces stormed a university campus event held by antigovernment protesters, making arrests and threatening to meet further resistance with live rounds before retreating in the face of a growing fire. Several protesters were arrested while trying to run.
“We will use the minimal force,” police said in a Facebook video. “We are asking the rioters to stop assaulting the police using cars, gas bombs and bows and arrows. Otherwise, we will use force, including live rounds.”
Hong Kong’s hospital authority says 116 people were injured and taken to hospital.
The current prodemocracy movement was inspired by a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam eventually scrapped that legislation, but not before the movement had grown to include the long-held demand that the people be allowed to vote for their own leaders and remain autonomous from Beijing.
Like all other dictatorships, China regards freedom of thought and political openness as dangerous contaminations. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Chinese government stepped up its control over students through “patriotic” education campaigns. It also imposed more restrictions on scholars. Yet academics working in universities, think-tanks, and NGOs have, over the years, continued to expose and criticize systemic injustices.
Since assuming power in 2012, Xi Jinping has a more tightly controlled civil society, the media, and universities and has strengthened ideological indoctrination. New bans and restrictions on research and teaching on topics such as constitutionalism and civil society have further impeded independent scholarship. Since his inaugurations, numerous critical scholars have been silenced, and some have gone into exile.
We urge the Chinese government to the uphold the legally binding Joint Declaration, in which Beijing solemnly vowed that freedom “of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research, and of religious belief” would “remain unchanged for 50 years.” ESW further calls upon all international organizations, academic and professional associations, and other groups and individuals devoted to the promotion and defense of human rights to protest and condemn Beijing’s pervasive and ongoing crackdown on Hong Kong universities.
We believe that universities and academics around the world must take a firm stance when academic freedom is threatened because, ultimately, the global challenge of defending that freedom requires collective and institutionalized action.
Please send appeals to the following:
Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng
Department of Justice
Secretary for Justice’s Office
5th floor, Main Wing, Justice Place,
18 Lower Albert Road, Central,
Fax: +852 39184119
Chief Executive Carrie Lam
Hong Kong Special Administrative
Region Office of the Chief Executive
Fax: +852 25090580
President Andrew Leung
Legislative Council Complex
1 Legislative Council Road, Central
Fax: +852 2537 1851