Two PolyU students in hunger strike over school’s handling of ‘democracy wall’ after pro-Hong Kong independence messages
Action latest twist in controversy involving university officials and student union
Two university students in Hong Kong launched a hunger strike on Friday to protest the school taking control of a bulletin board on which messages advocating the city’s independence from China had been posted.
Polytechnic University student union president Lam Wing-hang and Victor Yuen Pak-leung said they would not end their action until the school reinstated their rights to the “democracy wall”, where open messages are affixed.
But the two did not reveal whether they would take any further action at the Hung Hom campus on Saturday, where the school is to hold an open-day event.
The controversy between the student group and school officials erupted almost two weeks ago after the union temporarily relaxed rules for posting messages on the board, following the government’s unprecedented ban on the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), a separatist group.
After the changes, some pro-independence messages emerged on the board. Two PolyU ultimatums to restore the wall were ignored, and school officials eventually covered the material with red paper.
“We believe that when we are facing [suppression] of freedom of speech, we should not back down,” Lam said on Friday evening.
“As the university has yet to promise giving us back our right to manage the democracy wall and re-establish the autonomy of the student union, we will not stop the strike.”
A university spokeswoman urged students to stay rational and calm, stressing that the institution had always respected their freedom of speech.
“Polytechnic University does not agree with students using radical means to express their views,” she said, calling on the hunger strikers to cease their action and look after their health.
She added that student union representatives had been invited to discuss issues relating to the wall at 4pm on Saturday.
On Thursday, a group of about 10 students, including committee members of the PolyU student union, stormed management offices demanding an explanation as to why the university had covered the pro-independence messages.
Referring to a statement issued by PolyU on Thursday condemning “the unruly behaviour” of several students, Lam countered that the situation had been “very chaotic”.
“We had a strong urge to get the school’s reply,” the student leader explained on Friday. “Therefore, some people fell by accident in the rush.”
Lam stressed there had been no intention to see anyone get physically hurt. He added the union had repeatedly sought to talk to PolyU management, but it was rejected.
Originally, school officials offered to meet students on Saturday afternoon. But the students rejected the closed-door meeting invitation and sent an email demanding an open forum be held on Friday.
After waiting for more than two hours, the students said they failed to see any officials attending the event. They decided to hold a press conference and announced the hunger strike.
During the announcement, Lam received a notice from PolyU’s property management body, warning that the group had violated rules for using a university venue and stating the school would reserve the right to pursue action.
“This reinforced our determination to start a hunger strike,” he said, noting the group’s “determination to safeguard freedom of speech” had been bolstered.