University of Hong Kong students and staff members are free to take part in Occupy Central and other protests, the university’s head said on Wednesday, adding that legal advice would be provided to anyone arrested during a demonstration.
Vice chancellor Professor Peter Mathieson said the university cherished freedom of speech and encouraged students to express themselves in ways that were “peaceful and constructive”.
“We support freedom of speech and we support staff and students to express opinions whether they are in favour of Occupy Central or against,” he said, adding that he would not take a side on the matter.
“We want to provide an environment where different opinions can flourish, be tolerated and be discussed.”
Mathieson urged students and staff to “behave as responsible citizens” and to respect the law.
“The main issue is to encourage [students and staff] to take responsibility for their actions.”
Help and assistance, including legal advice, would be provided by the university to those arrested, he added.
Occupy supporters plan to stage a sit-in on Central streets if the official plan for the 2017 election does not give voters a genuine choice between candidates.
Student activist groups could also rally students as early as next month to boycott classes if Beijing sets a restrictive framework for the election on Sunday.
Mathieson said the university did not force attendance. “Students obviously are free to attend or not to attend classes at any time,” he said.
But he added: “If students choose not to attend then they have to understand that they’ll be missing educational opportunities and there may be consequences of that.”
He said it was understood that some instructors were negotiating with students about the possible rescheduling of classes.
On Tuesday, the president of Polytechnic University also said its staff members and students would not be penalised if they join Occupy Central or the expected boycott of classes.
Chinese University, City University, University of Science and Technology, Lingnan University and the Institute of Education expressed similar views on boycotts.
Baptist University said it would operate normally but if students missed more than 15 per cent of their classes in any subject, they would not be able to sit the examination.