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Radio Free Asia

Hong Kong university withdraws recognition, facilities from student union

By Man Hin, Lau Ngoh Yin and Tung Syu Yuet 2022.01.20 -- Another Hong Kong university has withdrawn recognition for its student union amid an ongoing clampdown on public speech, under a draconian national security law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

In an open email to staff and students, the Education University of Hong Kong said the university hadn't "authorized" the union, and cited "governance issues" linked to recent elections to its committee.

The university's official website on Thursday continued to display a page titled "Support for Student Organizations," listing the Education University of Hong Kong Student Union as a body it supports.

"The Student Union was formally established in May 1995. In addition to providing various types of activities and benefits for students, it also participates in the formulation of policies and administrative matters of the school by recommending student representatives to attend school committee meetings," the page said.

But the email said the university would no longer allow the union to use its usual venues on campus, and would stop collecting membership fees on its behalf.

The student union's H.K.$9 million in funds will be handed over to the finance office "on a temporary basis," it said.

Meanwhile, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), which derecognized its student union in 2021, called for all students to stand as potential representatives to university committees -- positions that were once elected via the union.

Media reports said that the University of Hong Kong (HKU), CUHK, City University, Polytechnic University, Lingnan University and Baptist University have all stopped collecting student union dues since the start of the current academic year.

A HKU student surnamed Lam said the lack of a student union was "stressful" for students.

"If the universities suppress student organizations in various ways, it will actually destroy any channels of communication between students [and management]," Lam said. "Lots of small, daily activities will be affected, or dwindle out entirely."

"I also think it's a great shame, because [Hong Kong's] universities each have their own history, and if the student unions are lost, a lot of newly enrolled students won't get any sense of that history," he said.

Applicants for student representative seats will be screened based on staff recommendation (40 percent), relevant extra-curricular experience (25 percent), personal statement (25 percent) and grades (10 percent), the CUHK notice said.

Representatives must be recommended by full-time faculty, with the university council having the final word on whether a nomination is valid, it said.

The CUHK Student Daily newspaper said the new process was being managed by the university's Student Affairs Office, with the selection of candidates entirely determined by non-elected bureaucrats.

It cited concerns that those appointed to the representative seats would be effectively used as clients of the university management when voting, as they were no longer accountable to the union.

'Promoting terrorism'

The move came as four former members of the HKU Student Union council were charged with "promoting terrorism" under the national security law, in connection with its motion in support of a man who stabbed a police officer.

Four former HKU students, including former student union president Kwok Wing-ho and council chief Cheung King-sang, have been charged with "advocating terrorism" under the national security law and were released on bail pending a further hearing on March 24.

On July 1, 2021, 50-year-old Leung Kin-fai stabbed himself to death after knifing a policeman outside the Sogo department store. The union passed a motion on July 7, 2021 saying it "appreciated [Leung's] sacrifice."

Union council members made public apologies and resigned from their posts after the incident, but Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam insisted publicly that police investigate them under the national security law.

Officials have warned that anyone visibly mourning or sympathizing with Leung's death could be breaking the national security law, and are treating the incident as a terrorist attack.

An HKU student surnamed Lam who attended the hearing told RFA that he felt "powerless" in the face of the current crackdown on dissent.

"I can see what is happening, but there's nothing I can do about it," Lam said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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