Declaration of the Defense of Freedom of Speech & Academic Freedom in the HK Academia
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Resist infringement of Academic Freedom,
Put our Knowledge into Practice and Protect our Intellectuals:
Declaration of the Defense of Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom in the University Academic Circle
It has been four years since the ‘Umbrella Movement’ happened; yet the road to real universal suffrage remains distant and uncertain. Freedom and human rights are constantly deteriorating; using “national security” and “opposition to Hong Kong independence” as excuses, the government of Hong Kong SAR and the Central government of the PRC have limited the freedom of speech that belongs to all Hong Kongers. Voices of the dissent are increasingly repressed. The situation has now turned critical. The same applies to universities and the academic circle. Some of the scholars who had participated in the Umbrella Movement have been requested to terminate, or even immediately laid off from their teaching positions. Just in March, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Poly U) strictly punished students who had participated in the “Democracy Wall” protest. Similar events have shown that universities and colleges now intentionally limit the freedom of speech and academic freedom. Students and staff are not able to express their political views freely, either within universities or in the public. As students and alumni of Department of Sociology, we here express our concern for the current situation. On April 9th 2019 - the judgment day for the case of the “nine Occupy Central activists” - we initiate this petition to draw attention to the current situation in the university academic circle.
Civil Disobedience - The “Post-Umbrella” Blooming of Political Awakening
In 2013, Professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Professor Chan Kin-man, and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming initiated ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’ (OCLP) campaign, advocating for civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance, in order to strive for the implementation of universal suffrage in the 2017 election for the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. In the same year, Mr. Shiu Ka-chun (incumbent legislator) and a few others expressed support for the OCLP campaign. With the ‘31st August Decision’ of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of the PRC in 2014, severe limitations were imposed to the nomination of candidates to run for the Chief Executive. The academia began resisting with students boycotting classes and occupying Civic Square. On 28 September, the police fired 87 tear gas bombs to disperse the protestors, which then evolved into the 79-day Umbrella Movement, with up to one million participants. Although the Umbrella Movement was unable to change the regime, many have been politically awakened. Post-Umbrella Movement organizations are established one after the other, causing all kinds of actions to bloom.
The Fearless Pioneering of Academics
Social scientists believe that social order is not constant and is subject to changes. Conflicts and tension bring about social improvement, and civil disobedience is just such a warning about our unbalanced social system to uncover the underlying social conflicts. The Umbrella Movement has uncovered that under the apparent harmony of Hong Kong society is in fact social injustice, the over-pursuit of economic effectiveness, and the negligence of civil rights. Professor Tai, Professor Chan, and Mr. Shiu, together with other scholars, had participated in civil disobedience to reflect the efforts and devotion of public intellectuals in promoting for the betterment of the society.
The Frequent Suppression of Academic Freedom
Since the Umbrella Movement, however, the university academic circle has been often subjected to political intervention and the suppression of freedom of speech. At various institutions, teaching staff has been attacked for political reasons and for their participation in other activities. For example, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) rejected the appointment of Professor Johannes Chan Man-man as pro-Vice Chancellor; and Dr. Benson Wong Wai-kwok, the former chairperson at the Hong Kong Baptist University Faculty and Staff Union, was denied a contract extension. Likewise, Professor Tai and Mr. Shiu have encounted similar treatments. Mr. Shiu was dismissed in April 2015 from his position as course coordinator for the Associate Degree Program at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU), and in June of the same year, though elected as the position Associate Director of the Center of Youth Research and Practice at HKBU, he was eventually denied the position for fear of his “influence” to the political neutrality of the Center. In 2017, pro-establishment Junius Ho ran a signature campaign to remove Professor Tai from his position at HKU.
In addition to the careers of individual academics, the freedom of speech is increasingly endangered within university campuses. Four years after the Umbrella Movement, students’ posts on the “Democracy Wall” in PolyU, which took the form the “Lennon Wall” during the Umbrella Movement, was covered with red paper by the administration. It was not until students have protested and begun a hunger strike that the university administration formally recognized the students’ union’s right to manage their own “Democracy Wall.” However, in March of this year, the public was shocked to see that several students involved in the said protests were severely punished and disciplined. They were given community service order, suspended, expelled, even banned from enrollment forever.
Now is the Time to Protect our Intellectuals
We stand by the nine activists of “Occupy Central” in their cause for resistance against social injustice through civil disobedience. Meanwhile, we call on all universities in Hong Kong to safeguard academic freedom and freedom of speech with all their might. We here urge the following actions:
1. Each university should expressly promise that it will not discipline (during or after the fact) those who participate in social resistance and civil disobedience.
2. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University should retract its disciplinary actions towards the four students involved in the “Democracy Wall” incident.
Initiators/Initiating organizations (listed in no particular order)
A group of alumni and students of Department of Sociology, the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Soclasta, the 2019 Society of Sociology, CUSU
Poliversal, The Society of the Department of Government and Public Administration, The Student Union of the Chinese University of Hong Kong
The 38th Hong Kong Federation of Social Work Students
Sonectus, The Social Work Society of Hong Kong Baptist University
Affiunity, ExCo 2019-2020, The Social Work Society, CUSU
Ignite, Society of Social Work Department of Hong Kong Shue Yan University
Claire, the Applied Social Sciences Departmental Society of the Students' Union of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Amanecer, the 31st Applied Social Studies Society, City University of Hong Kong Student's Union
Stanovate, the 15th Caritas Institute of Higher Education and Caritas Bianchi College of Careers Joint School of Social Sciences Society
Ignite, the 5th Social Work Club of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
14th Society of Social Work of Hong Kong College Of Technology - CHANGE「S」
Reclaiming Social Work Movement
Progressive Teachers’ Alliance
Hong Kong Christian Institute
HK Psychologists Concern
Scholars’ Alliance for Academic Freedom
Nu Tong Xue She
The Association for the Advancement of Feminism
Citizens in Mission
Les Corner Empowerment Association
Democratic Action Accountants
CM Doctors Cure
Progressive Lawyers Group
Alliance for Children Development Rights
Youth Policy Advocators Concerning CSSA and Low Income Alliance
New Arrival Women League
Radiation Therapist & Radiographer’s Conscience
Shiu Ka Chun Legistative Councilor’s Office
Ekklesia Hong Kong
Friends of Conscience
Hong Kong Christian Fellowship of City Concern
Scholars Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity
6 April, 2019
Photo credit: 蕭雲
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