PolyU chair backs action on students in Democracy Wall protest

March 04, 2019 15:32
Lam Tai-fai, chairman of the council of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said he believes in the committee’s investigation and respects its decision. Photo: Reuters/RTHK News

Lam Tai-fai, chairman of the council of Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), voiced support to the decision of a student discipline committee to punish four students for misbehavior in the “Democracy Wall” incident, adding that he hopes the students will think about their action, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

The incident took place in early October last year when the four, part of a group of about 10 students, stormed into the office of then-university president Timothy Tong Wai-cheung and demanded that he explain why the school administration covered with red sheets a bulletin board, known as the Democracy Wall, which had pro-independence messages.

After several months of investigation and deliberation, the committee announced on Friday that the four should be punished for assaulting university staff, refusing to comply with orders, and exhibiting conduct detrimental to the university’s reputation.

The four are master’s degree student Gerald Ho Hun-him, who was expelled from the school; former student union leader Lam Wing-hang, who was handed a one-year suspension; Owen Li, a student and elected member of the school’s governing council, who was ordered to do 120 hours of community service; and Hazel Cheng Yuet-ting, former external vice-president of the student union, who was ordered to do 60 hours of community service.

PolyU said the students could not appeal the decision.

The punishments imposed on the students drew comments not only from inside the university campus but also outside.

Former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, who is now a vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, China's top political advisory, talked about the PolyU decision in a Facebook post, saying the pan-democrats believed the university reacted too much to the incident. But Leung disagreed, saying the school had not even filed a police report.

Lam, who took over as university chairman on Jan. 1, told media that he believed in the committee’s investigation and respected its decision, saying opinions were divided because the public had various levels of awareness of the incident.

He said he was saddened by the students' behavior in the incident as he stressed that a campus is a place for students to acquire knowledge and learn how to treat people and handle situations.

He also said students should not say things that support independence or harm the country.

Tong said he was confident that the committee had considered the case with due care before making its decision and he had no doubts about the outcome.

Kaizer Lau Ping-cheung, a member of the PolyU council, criticized the four students for having acted arrogantly and not knowing how to respect teachers.

Lau said the four students acted a bit like gang members during the incident, adding that the punishments given them were delayed but appropriate.

In a newspaper article, Chung Kim-wah, assistant professor of PolyU's Department of Applied Social Sciences, questioned why the school did not call the police if it thought the students were acting violently. He urged the council to present more concrete evidence to justify its decision.

In a statement, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union said the punishments were too heavy. It urged PolyU to reconsider its decision as well as explain to the public its ruling in order to allay public concerns.

The Education Bureau declined to comment on how a school deals with internal issues such as student behavior and discipline.

Ho, who was expelled from the school, said in a TV interview on Saturday he would try to seek a judicial review of his punishment.

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