POLITICS
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Universal suffrage

Hong Kong students prepare to kick off classroom boycott; hundreds of academics supportive

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 September, 2014, 8:38pm
UPDATED : Monday, 22 September, 2014, 7:30pm

Thousands of students are expected to join a five-day class boycott across tertiary institutions this afternoon to protest Beijing’s restrictions on the 2017 chief executive election.

Classes at Chinese University are being held as usual this morning. Students from 11 universities and institutions will gather at a main avenue on the Sha Tin campus to kick off the boycott after lunchtime.

Organisers the Federation of Students will deliver a manifesto at at 2.30pm, to be followed by speeches from student leaders and teachers.

Alex Chow Yong-kang, the federation's secretary general, said today they will send a letter to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and three other officials in charge of political reform demanding a response to Hongkongers’ aspiration for "genuine" universal suffrage.

Another students’ group, Scholarism, distributed leaflets outside a secondary school in Mong Kok this morning to call for pupils to boycott classes today to express support for the tertiary students.

Chinese University vice-chancellor, Professor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, said earlier the school respected students' feelings and their opinions. "This is a university and we allow an open forum for speech and expression of attitude," he said.

Almost 400 university and non-academic staff have thrown their weight behind the student protest, signing a petition offering their "staunchest support and protection".

More than 80 public lectures are planned, with speakers including Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun and more than 100 academics from various disciplines.

"As teachers and as citizens, we are pained and outraged to see the advancement of democracy in Hong Kong stifled and suppressed," read the statement, which by yesterday had been signed by 382 university staff, including 297 teaching staff.

"Our hope in Hong Kong's future lies in the passion and spirit shown by our young people and their willingness to take up the mantle in the fight for democracy and social justice," it read.

"Yet, while the students are pure of heart, they have recently become subject to unreasonable smears and attacks. We appeal to all sectors of society … do not let them stand alone to face the white terror," it added, using a term referring to political repression.

Professor Dixon Sing Ming, of the University of Science and Technology, who is one of 32 academics who initiated the petition, said: "Every student should have freedom from fear."

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Sing said: "Many teachers feel that Beijing has betrayed its promise promulgated in the Basic Law as well as the Joint Declaration."

The academics who signed, Sing said, were from across the political spectrum and included some politically conservative scholars who once believed genuine democracy could be achieved through dialogue.

One such academic was Lee Kim-ming, who was one of 18 scholars who earlier this year put forward a moderate reform package that excluded public nomination of chief executive candidates, a mechanism most pan-democrats fought for.

"As a baby-boomer, many from my generation have long been used to pointing our fingers at students and blaming them for making trouble," Lee said. "This time I feel obliged to stand with the students."

A group of former student leaders staged a rally at Tamar Park yesterday to voice their support for the class boycott.

"It's courageous for students to stand up and bear the pressure," said Patrick Wong Chun-sing, who served as president of the University of Hong Kong's student union in 1997. "There won't be any hope if they do nothing."