Hong Kong’s universities are likely to see their lecture rooms remain empty after the new academic year begins in September as students have vowed to stay away from classes for a while in a show of solidarity for the city’s anti-extradition bill movement.
At a press conference on Thursday, student unions from 10 universities jointly announced that a class boycott will begin from Sept. 2, and that the protest action will last two weeks.
Union representatives said the students would be only staying away from classes, but not their studies.
The universities include the eight funded by the University Grants Committee, namely the University of Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the Hong Kong Baptist University, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the City University of Hong Kong, Lingnan University and the Education University of Hong Kong, plus two non-funded ones, the Hang Seng University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Shue Yan University.
Student representatives told the media that the planned move is aimed at sending a message to the government that it should respond to the five demands made by the public in the wake of the extradition bill fiasco.
In addition to the class boycott, a gathering will be held at CUHK’s University Mall at 3 pm on Sept. 2, which will be followed by a series of events and lectures, including an open lecture at Chater Garden in Central, across different campuses over the next two weeks.
The venue was chosen because it was the same place where students rallied and staged a class boycott back in 2014 to demand the withdrawal of decisions announced on Aug. 31 that year by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in relation to the selection of the Hong Kong Chief Executive and the Legislative Council arrangement, according to Davin Kenneth Wong, who is acting president of the HKU students’ union.
The University Mall is also a bigger venue among many of the tertiary institutions, Wong noted.
The students gave the government until 8 pm on Sept. 13 to respond to the people’s demands, warning that they will escalate their action if authorities fail to do so.
Meanwhile, they handed in an application for a letter of no objection from police for a civil lecture to be held at Chater Garden in Central on that day, when the general public will be invited to join.
Students have deep concerns about the government’s handling of recent events, Wong said, noting that officials’ comments on the anti-extradition bill protests have become increasingly absurd and that the police actions against protesters had been getting more and more violent.
Wong said two weeks’ time is sufficient enough for the government to respond to the five demands, which include total withdrawal of the extradition bill and an independent inquiry into police conduct.
The administration should have responded to the demands by now, given that the protest movement began almost three months ago, he said.
In other comments, Wong reiterated that the universities have not set up any joint class boycott committee.
He claimed that students of some secondary schools are also interested in joining the class boycott.
Students have a right to boycott class, Wong said, dismissing Education Secretary Kevin Yeung Yun-hung’s critical remarks over the move.
Staying away from classes is a way of showing the students’ discontent over the social and political situation in the city, he said.
As for a platform for dialogue proposed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Wong called it meaningless and said students may not take part in it as there seems to be no room for discussion or compromise as to the five demands.
Presidents of the Education University and Baptist University, Professor Stephen Cheung Yan-leung and Professor Roland Chin Tai-hong, were among a list of prominent figures invited to a meeting on Saturday to discuss how to establish the platform with Lam, according to a government source.
Representatives of student unions of the two universities, however, said Cheung and Chin do not represent them.
In related news, hundreds of secondary school students rallied at Edinburgh Place in Central on Thursday afternoon, calling on the government to respond to the five demands as well as pledging support for a planned class boycott when the new school term starts in September.
One of the organizers estimated the turnout at the rally to be 2,000 to 3,000, while police put the figure at 1,510 at the peak.
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