University students in Hong Kong ignore warning to remove pro-independence messages from campus ‘democracy wall’
University told student union to remove stickers by 6pm on Friday but instead its defiant leader stamped messages with official mark
Defiant student leaders ignored an ultimatum from university managers to remove messages in support of Hong Kong independence from a campus bulletin board by Friday evening – and warned of not backing down over the issue.
Polytechnic University told the student union at a meeting earlier in the day to remove the memo stickers from the “democracy wall” bulletin board by 6pm. The university warned it would take over half of the wall run by the union if they remained.
Some 90 minutes after the deadline had passed the stickers were still in place – and by then PolyU student union president Lam Wing-hang had stamped them with the union’s official mark.
He said that meant all the stickers had been authorised under the student union’s rules. So the school had no excuse to remove them.
“We have fulfilled [the requirements in] the warnings from the school. If the school still needs to remove or destroy our wall [by taking down the stickers], we had no wrongdoing,” Lam said.
If PolyU removed the memo stickers, the students would take action and not back down, he said, without elaborating.
The row came after the city’s Security Bureau banned the separatist Hong Kong National Party on Monday on national security grounds. Associating with the party – including becoming a member, donating to it or taking part in its activities – could lead to imprisonment for up to three years.
But legal experts said expressing support for the party without taking concrete action such as trying to join would not be considered unlawful.
On the day of the ban, the PolyU student union decided to turn a section of its democracy wall into a “Lennon wall” – a reference to a spot at the Admiralty site of the 2014 Occupy protests named for its similarity to a Czech Republic monument honouring the late Beatles singer – with fewer rules on posting messages.
Occupy protesters had plastered the Admiralty Lennon wall with colourful notes in support of the democracy movement.
At PolyU’s campus in Hung Hom one message with “Hong Kong independence” written on it in Chinese was defaced. By 5pm on Friday, there were fewer than 10 memo stickers with pro-independence slogans on the wall.
Most of the messages there criticised the university’s ultimatum or marked the fourth anniversary of the Occupy movement.
However, a university notice on the wall criticising the union for relaxing the posting rules was defaced on Thursday night.
Using red marker pen, someone had written in Chinese: “School president Timothy Tong Wai-cheung is suppressing freedom of speech.”
PolyU dean of students Esmond Mok Chi-ming met student leaders on Friday, but stood firm that the union must restore the democracy wall to its previous status, without referring directly to the pro-independence stickers.
Mok warned that if the union failed to do so, the school would take over the Lennon wall section.
After the 6pm deadline passed, a PolyU spokesman said the university required the student union to switch back to the original posting rules “as soon as possible” without giving any time frame.
The union had reduced the posting rules to just three for the Lennon wall: no commercials; student numbers and posting dates must be provided; and the union’s right to make the final decision. All posters and banners would be kept for no more than two weeks.
Separately, banners made from sheets of A4 paper reading “I support Hong Kong Independence” and “I support Hong Kong National Party” were still pinned to the University of Hong Kong’s democracy wall, along with other pro-independence messages.
HKU said on Thursday night that senior management were “concerned” about the pro-independence postings on the wall and had asked the student union to take “appropriate action”. HKU did not set an ultimatum nor has it taken any action.
HKU student union president Davin Wong said they did not receive any notice or request directly from the university. However, they told the university the student union did not find pro-independence postings had violated the rules of the wall.
Among the rules, set and enforced by the union, are that postings cannot be libellous or contain personal attacks.
“Since no rules are being violated, the union has no authority to remove the pro-independence banners, and we will defend fellow students’ freedom of speech,” Wong said.
He added the union did not necessarily subscribe to the views posted.