No complaints against Benny Tai over independence remarks, says Hong Kong University law dean
Dean of HKU’s Faculty of Law tells the Post he is ‘not aware of any complaint directed to the faculty’ about Tai, while a source says the controversial academic’s tenure will not be affected
Controversial academic Benny Tai Yiu-ting’s teaching position at the University of Hong Kong appears safe for now despite official condemnation of his remarks on independence for the city and mounting calls for his sacking.
HKU’s Faculty of Law dean Michael Hor told the Post he was “not aware of any complaint directed to the faculty”, while university procedures were in place to deal with any.
Asked whether the pro-Beijing camp’s criticisms had put pressure on him to take action against Tai, Hor shrugged off the issue, saying, “The question at the moment concerns the pressure on the prosecutorial authorities whether or not to prefer a charge.”
Tai posted a message on his Facebook page on Tuesday night saying he believed he was being monitored by a “powerful law enforcement agency”.
That came after the pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao newspaper published a photo of him leaving a car park in Central even though Tai said he had taken precautions to ensure he was not being tailed by anyone from the paper.
“For the record, if you see me ... about to cross the Hong Kong border to mainland China or Macau, please take the time to ask me if I’m leaving voluntarily,” he wrote.
“If you see me on the mainland or in Macau, I definitely would not be there voluntarily, since I have no intention of going there at all. If you see me on videos saying I returned voluntarily, I would have definitely done so under pressure or coercion.”
The row over Tai’s suggestion at a forum in Taiwan last month that the city could “consider becoming an independent state” some day in a “democratic China” intensified on Monday as Beijing mouthpiece People’s Daily demanded the Hong Kong government take legal action against him under the city’s criminal law.
The university is also under mounting pressure from the pro-Beijing camp to dismiss the law professor as his critics question whether Tai is still fit to teach.
A member of the faculty’s senior management, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Post on Tuesday that Tai, as a tenured associate professor of law, would not be affected by the controversy.
“Nothing much has changed,” the source said, noting that it was “not the first day” Tai had come under attack, having faced a similar backlash when leading the Occupy protests.
The source said there was “simply no good cause” to warrant an investigation or to dismiss Tai, as his remarks, similar to his Occupy role, were not related to his teaching.
Neither the university nor acting president Paul Tam Kwong-hang could be reached for comment.
A defiant Tai earlier complained that Beijing was making an example of him to limit freedom of speech and pave the way for tougher national security legislation in Hong Kong.
Former pro-Beijing lawmaker Tam Yiu-chung, the city’s sole deputy to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, the country’s top legislative body, earlier publicly “advised” HKU to consider whether Tai was suitable to remain in his post.
Tam’s successor as chair of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, Starry Lee Wai-king, also weighed in, saying HKU should “look into” whether Tai had broken any rules since the Occupy movement.
“It cannot be ignored simply because Tai said he was having an academic discussion, this would fall short of people’s expectations of the university and the government … to leave all their responsibilities to the city’s law,” she added.
The Hong Kong Federation of Education and several pro-establishment community groups also condemned Tai and urged HKU to fire him.
But Timothy O’Leary, a staff representative on the university’s governing council, warned that the pro-Beijing camp was “trying to discredit Benny Tai, apparently in preparation for the [Occupy] trial and HKU’s response to it”. Tai and other leading Occupy protesters face a charge of “incitement to incite public nuisance” and are due in court in November.
“What Tai said is not in any way in conflict with his role of professor of HKU,” O’Leary said, urging the university to stand firm against calls to fire Tai. “Just because it annoys the government, it’s obviously not a reason to stop doing that.”
The Progressive Lawyers Group, comprising liberal barristers, solicitors and law students, urged the government to publicly apologise and to “cease its intimidation and attacks against” Tai.
In a statement on Tuesday, the group said that instead of criticising Tai, the government should be upholding freedom of speech and academic freedom, which are guaranteed under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
Meanwhile, the political drama also spilled over to the courts, as a Tai supporter applied for a judicial review targeting an unusually sharp statement issued earlier by the Hong Kong government criticising the academic.
Kwok Cheuk-kin, a former civil servant known for regularly taking the government to court, argued those remarks were equally unconstitutional, in that they showed Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had failed to uphold Basic Law articles that protect freedom of speech and academic activities.
As a result, Lam, who took an oath to uphold the Basic Law as the city’s leader, should be booted from the job, he argued.
Additional reporting by Tony Cheung and Chris Lau