‘Democracy wall’ at Hong Kong university covered by red paper after banner put up supporting pro-independence National Party
Stand-off between PolyU management and student union drags on in wake of National Party ban and amid fears free speech is under threat on campus
Half of Polytechnic University’s “democracy wall”, where a banner backing Hong Kong independence was put up earlier this week following an unprecedented ban against a separatist party, was found to be covered by a large piece of red paper on Saturday.
On top of the red paper were several posters displaying the wall’s original rules and a special remark by PolyU’s management stipulating that the wall is managed by the university, not the student union.
The developments came as the row between the student union and PolyU management over control of the democracy wall dragged on for a fourth day. The university’s second deadline for the union to “restore” the wall to its “original” state expired at 6pm on Friday.
At a meeting with the student leaders on Friday, the dean of students, Esmond Mo Chi-ming, said the university would take back the wall if the union failed to meet the deadline. Mo added the wall should be used “more for academic discussions”, according to a union statement.
The students insisted they would not heed the university’s request. Instead, they stamped all posts on the half wall with the union’s official mark.
Union president Lam Wing-hang said a university security guard was spotted putting up the red paper before 6am on Saturday.
“We will not remove the red paper,” Lam added. “We expect the university to do it.”
A PolyU spokeswoman confirmed the university had covered up the wall.
“As the democracy wall had not been restored in time, the university ... took back the part occupied by the Lennon Wall,” she said, noting it previously communicated with the union about the matter.
The union on Monday declared the area in question a “Lennon Wall” for two weeks after the government gazetted a ban on the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party. It was the first ban of its kind since the city was handed from British to Chinese rule in 1997. Authorities cited “national security” concerns.
An earlier “Lennon wall” – named for its similarity to a monument in the Czech Republic honouring the late Beatles singer – was created at the Admiralty site of the Occupy protests of 2014. Protesters plastered it with colourful notes in support of the pro-democracy movement.
The union, which said it wanted to “provide a little freedom in a Hong Kong without free speech”, also reduced the usual posting rules to just three: no commercials; student ID numbers and posting dates must be provided; and the union’s right to make the final decision. All posters and banners would be affixed for no more than two weeks.
On Wednesday, a small poster made of four stickers bearing the Chinese characters for “Hong Kong independence” appeared on the wall. Also on the day, Mok demanded the union remove the Lennon Wall and cancel the new posting terms by 1.30pm on Thursday.
Lam said in a public speech in front of the wall on Thursday that the university management’s request was the latest move to “suffocate” students’ free speech. He added that the union was never required to seek the university’s approval regarding changes to the wall.
Under the terms of the HKNP ban, any association with the party ranging from membership and donations to participation in its activities could lead to up to three years in jail.
The government has yet to clarify the ban’s legal implications for members of the public and the media. But the Education Bureau sent a letter to all secondary institutions in the city, demanding that educators not lend school premises to the party and watch out for students’ “wrong and radical ideas”.
Universities also received from the bureau on Monday the gazetted ban and a speech by the security minister.