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Universities in Hong Kong

Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers urge PolyU president to students on hunger strike over losing rights to ‘democracy wall’

Support grows for Polytechnic University group as campus protest continues during open day event

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 October, 2018, 6:26pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 October, 2018, 11:01pm

Twenty-three pro-democracy lawmakers have urged the president of Polytechnic University to meet students taking part in a hunger strike to protest against school management seizing control of a bulletin board where pro-independence messages were posted.

In an open letter to president Timothy Tong Wai-cheung, the lawmakers said he should solve the problem “rationally” and return the right to manage the “democracy wall” back to students, as part of upholding free speech on campus.

It came after student unions from six Hong Kong universities on Saturday threw their support behind their PolyU peers after a Chinese University masters degree student joined the two undergraduates on their hunger strike.

The trio pledged to drink only water until their bodies could not “take it any longer” or until officials promised not to interfere in the wall.

Hendrick Lui Chi-hang arrived at the institution’s Hung Hom campus on Friday night, soon after PolyU student union president Lam Wing-hang and union council chairman Victor Yuen Pak-leung launched their campaign.

“We don’t have many bargaining chips to talk to the school,” Yuen said.

“Launching a hunger strike is using our own health as the chips. The school should take students’ health as a priority.”

‘Democracy wall’ covered up again as PolyU president hits out at student union for arbitrarily changing rules regarding Hong Kong independence messages

On Saturday, as 33,000 visitors attended a university open day to learn about the school, PolyU student union members handed out leaflets and warned they might gatecrash an information session, though they later decided against it when they realised no school officials were at the talk.

Slogans about the hunger strike were posted on the bulletin board, while the trio rested in tents set up outside a university building.

Student unions at six universities in Hong Kong issued a statement on Saturday accusing PolyU of seriously suppressing freedom of speech and being negligent in response to students’ demands.

Nearby, 10 members of the pro-Beijing Treasure Friendship Group shouted slogans in protest, calling on students to treasure their campus and criticising them for their independence advocacy.

Two PolyU students in hunger strike over school’s handling of ‘democracy wall’ after pro-Hong Kong independence messages

The scene resembled student protests in Admiralty in 2012 against the introduction of national education in schools and in support of the pro-democracy Occupy movement in 2014.

Secondary school student Wong Man-keung, 18, was among those “briefed” by student union members. He said students have the freedom to voice their opinions, but felt there was no place for politics on campus.

“Politics should not be talked [about] inside the campus. The school should be a place for learning,” he said.

Tony Lai Tung-kwong, 17, also learned about the campaign and urged the school to meet with student leaders.

“[But staging a] hunger strike is not too good. It affects [their] health,” he said.

The controversy at PolyU erupted two weeks ago when the student union temporarily relaxed rules for posting messages on the board, following the government’s unprecedented ban of the separatist Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) on national and public security grounds.

Students who associate with outlawed Hong Kong National Party can face criminal sanctions, government tells schools as top Beijing official welcomes ban

After the changes, messages advocating Hong Kong’s independence from China emerged on the board. Two ultimatums by school leaders to remove the materials were ignored, and officials ended up covering a section of the board with red paper.

On Saturday evening, school officials offered to meet the students on Monday evening or Tuesday morning.

“The University hopes [the student union] would value this opportunity for communication,” a university spokeswoman said.

The student union has not made a decision to attend or not, saying they would need to have an internal discussion first.

Lam and Yuen said they had participated in the national education and pro-democracy protests when they were secondary school students and felt this incident warranted action.

“The biggest link between the last movement and this movement was our Lennon Wall being damaged,” he said, referring to the PolyU’s democracy wall and a wall that was created at the Admiralty site in the Occupy protests.

The earlier “Lennon wall” – named for its similarity to a monument in the Czech Republic honouring the late Beatles singer – was plastered with coloured notes in support of the pro-democracy movement.