HKU chief apologises on treatment of protesters

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 August, 2011, 12:00am


The University of Hong Kong vice-chancellor said sorry yesterday over the treatment of protesters at the campus during a visit by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday when three were pulled to the ground by police and one was locked up for an hour.

Professor Tsui Lap-chee's apology came as he faced a hastily arranged and noisy meeting with students amid calls for him to step down. 'If the school board feels that I have committed any wrongdoing, I will step down to shoulder responsibility,' Tsui (pictured) said.

A row has also broken out over how Li was invited to the university. Some reports suggested the visit was initiated by Li, but last night the university issued a statement saying it had invited him.

'Tsui Lap-chee clarifies that Vice-Premier Li Keqiang was invited by HKU. HKU is based in HK and keeps close contact with the mainland. Inviting [state] leaders to come can facilitate mutual understanding and communication.'

Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, meanwhile, described as rubbish claims by journalists and politicians that freedom of expression was suppressed during Li's three-day trip to Hong Kong.

On Thursday, students and alumni were hemmed in by police 200 metres from the university's 100th birthday celebration, which Li attended, with three being pulled to the ground and one dragged off and locked up for an hour.

At yesterday's meeting, Tsui had an emotional exchange with the student who was locked up, Samuel Li Shing-hong. 'You don't seem to care about your students. I demand your apology,' Li said.

Without waiting for an answer, he stormed out as Tsui immediately said: 'I now offer my apology.'

Responding to student accusations that he acted like a coward, Tsui said: 'I do not think I acted like a coward ... neither did I hear anyone say I am a coward.'

The Hong Kong Journalists Association accused the police of hampering media coverage and freedom of expression, saying journalists had to endure stringent checks on their baggage and were kept far away from the state leader during his visit.

Tang rejected the criticism, saying: 'I think that it is completely rubbish [to suggest] that we have violated the civil rights law or we have violated freedom of speech.'

He said the administration had a responsibility to ensure the visits by prominent politicians proceeded smoothly and safely and he had confidence in the professionalism of police. 'We completely respect freedom of the press in reporting.'

But association vice-chairwoman Zoe Chan Suet-yee said journalists were restricted to places at least 50 to 100 metres away from Li.

'When he attended functions held at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, even after security checks, journalists could only cover the events by sitting in a room watching a live feed on a television set.'

The association will march from the new government headquarters in Admiralty to police headquarters in Wan Chai today to protest against what it terms police abuse of power over media coverage.

Last night the police responded to comments by Tsui in which he suggested the force was reviewing security arrangements as a result of the students' concerns. A spokesman said it was normal practice for a review to be carried out after public order events, adding that the force respected freedom of speech but had to balance that with the need to ensure the safety of the state leader.

A special security panel meeting will be held in the Legislative Council next Friday to discuss the issue. Panel chairman James To Kun-sun said: 'The arrangements by police over the past few days have touched on the core values of Hong Kong people. They acted like mainland police.'

Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong defended the arrangements. 'We respect press freedom but we also need to strike a balance between it and the security of a visiting VIP,' he said.