‘Democracy wall’ covered up again as PolyU president hits out at student union for arbitrarily changing rules regarding Hong Kong independence messages
Polytechnic University student union leader accuses president Timothy Tong of ‘passing the buck’
A Hong Kong university president has denied taking back a “democracy wall” for students to post pro-independence messages, saying management stepped in because the student union refused to follow the rules.
The wall – a bulletin board for students to express their views – at Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hung Hom has for more than a week been the site of a territorial battle between the student union, who claim to manage it, and the university which argues management was just delegated to the union.
Matters escalated on Wednesday when large sheets of red paper were again found covering part of the wall in the morning.
The student union and more than 40 other campus groups demanded the covering be removed by noon on Wednesday, after it was torn down by a student on Tuesday afternoon. That deadline passed without the paper covering being removed.
Students were also asked to sign a petition which included demands that the university, remove the red paper, apologise, promise no more intervention of premises managed by the student union, and to remove a surveillance camera monitoring the wall.
The row began last Monday when the union relaxed rules of posting on the wall following an unprecedented government ban against the separatist Hong Kong National Party.
“The student union arbitrarily changed the rules … without seeking consent from the university,” Timothy Tong Wai-cheung, president of the PolyU said on Wednesday. “We requested they follow the original rules but they refused. Therefore, our management is now directly managing the wall.”
When no action was taken to remove a small poster bearing the Chinese characters for “Hong Kong independence”, which appeared two days after the rules were relaxed, the board was covered with large sheets of red paper on Saturday.
By Wednesday morning the red paper had returned, along with posters displaying the original rules of posting, and a stern reminder from the university’s management that the wall was not managed by the student union.
When asked whether the decision was related to the pro-independence posters, Tong said: “Posting content that contravenes the Basic Law [Hong Kong’s mini-constitution] is a separate issue.”
Lam Wing-hang, president of the PolyU student union insisted the union did not need the university management’s consent or approval to change the rules.
“Throughout the meetings we have had [in the past week], the management never pointed out why the new rules are wrong,” Lam said. “They said we could discuss the rules only after we agreed to give up the new rules.
“[Tong] is just trying to pass the buck to the student union and make other students feel it is no big deal [for the management to take back the wall].”
Lam said the students would “escalate action” after the university missed the noon deadline to remove the red paper. On Wednesday afternoon, Lam wrote large white words on the red paper, calling for resistance, and said action was the only way forward as students’ freedom of speech was being suppressed.
“I want to show to all students that the nature of the issue is severe,” Lam said. “Students have to stand together and tell the school what we want.”
On Wednesday, members representing the student union continued to gather signatures in the campus for the petition. As of Tuesday night, around 2,000 people had signed it.
“We want students to support what we are doing now. With support from students, we would have stronger reasons when arguing with the school,” Lam said.
Macy Lee, a fourth year student in occupational therapy, signed the petition, calling the university’s actions “outrageous”.
“University should be a place with freedom ... Freedom of speech is something very basic,” she said.
“The democracy wall, a place for people to express their thoughts, has been managed by the student union throughout all these years. [What the school has done] is outrageous.”
But Popo Yuan, a first year chemistry student from mainland China, said she would not sign, as she did not feel as strongly about freedom of speech as Hong Kong students.
“Freedom of speech [related to the wall] has nothing to do with me, as what has been posted was all about Hong Kong independence,” said Yuan, adding she did not want to resist the school.