City University's decision to dock $48,000 from spy-case scholar Li Shaomin's wages has been branded harsh and political by pro-democracy campaigners. The South China Morning Post revealed yesterday that the university's human resources department had deducted $47,839 from Dr Li's account to offset what it called excessive holidays during the time he was detained on the mainland accused of spying for Taiwan. Pro-democracy legislators Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho Chun-yan condemned the move. Mr Lee said that while in July the university showed a caring attitude by accepting Dr Li's return to the campus, the salary deduction gave a bad impression. 'Is the university telling people its previous kind gesture was all fake and the real repercussions have yet to come on the scholar? I hope it will think twice because this is not good for the university's image.' Mr Ho said although the university had a contractual right to deduct the salaries of absent staff, it should consider the unique nature of Dr Li's plight. 'There is discretion at any university and the question is whether it is willing to exercise it,' Mr Ho said. 'It appears to be a political consideration. It is regrettable that a university that is supposed to stand for freedom and democracy cannot stand firm on 'one country, two systems'.' Dr Li, 45, a US citizen, was arrested in Shenzhen on February 25. He was expelled from the mainland to the United States after being convicted by a Beijing court in July of spying for Taiwan. That hearing was held behind closed doors and no details of it or the charges on which Dr Li was found guilty have been released by the authorities. The academic, who denies the accusation of spying, was allowed back into Hong Kong on July 30. The university council decided five days later to let him keep his job as assistant professor, which pays more than $80,000 a month. The university said it would deal with his case in a 'caring and flexible' way. At the time, despite saying it would classify Dr Li's time in detention as leave, there was no mention that his salary would be deducted. The university was not able to make an official comment on the move yesterday, which Dr Li has described as 'extremely mean'. City University council member Patrick Lau Ping-cheung has said: 'The running of a university must follow a mechanism. ' It would be inappropriate to enforce part of the terms [of a contract] while not enforcing the others. 'The university cannot regard one case as unique and apply favour to particular persons.' The vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, Ip Kwok-him, said that while Dr Li was away, the university had to pay for a substitute member of staff. 'If special favours are given to him, there will also be criticism the university is prejudiced towards him,' Mr Ip said.