Graduation ceremonies at two Hong Kong universities disrupted by masked students, with one event halted and the other delayed

Martin Choi

Graduation ceremonies at two Hong Kong universities were disrupted by masked students stressing the demands of anti-government protesters on Thursday, with one event abruptly halted and the other delayed.

One of the institutions, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), where masked students dashed onto the stage twice, said it “condemned” students’ behaviour, adding it would investigate and decide if follow-up action was needed.

At Chinese University (CUHK), students chanted slogans to drown out the national anthem as it was being played at the beginning of its shortened ceremony, with a man, 20, who claimed to be a mainland student arrested after he brandished a knife at protesters.

Hong Kong has been in the grip of anti-government protests since June, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill. Among some 3,000 people arrested amid the unrest, about a third are students, mostly from tertiary institutions and secondary schools.

The ceremony at CUHK ended immediately after degrees were conferred by president Rocky Tuan Sung-chi because of “special circumstances”, according to its spokeswoman.

“Verbal disputes broke out between those with different opinions, graffiti was sprayed on the campus and there were disruptions while the ceremony was taking place,” she said. “Therefore after awarding all the degrees, the university decided to suspend the ceremony immediately.”

In his opening speech, Tuan expressed regret over what he called the “hateful action” of those who had “compromised the very nature of this ceremony”.

“This is a celebratory occasion, particularly for our graduates and their families, friends and guests,” he said. “On behalf of CUHK, I would like to express my deep regret for some of the compromises we have seen.”

Student hold up a slogan which reads ‘no fear of bullets – defend the truth’ during the graduation ceremony at Chinese University. Photo: Winson Wong

The presentation for teaching and research awards, as well as professorship installation was skipped.

When the national anthem played at the beginning of the event, many students turned their backs on the stage, and some could be heard chanting slogans such as “liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times”, although they remained quiet throughout the rest of the ceremony. Many also wore masks and held up banners.

At around 9.30am before the ceremony began, a man who claimed to be a student from mainland China waved a knife at a group of more than 300 students chanting slogans outside the venue of the congregation while he sang the Chinese national anthem.

Asked by reporters why he was holding a knife, he put it down and said he “wanted to protect himself, after seeing what happened at HKUST yesterday”.

A man claiming to be a student from mainland China is taken away by security guards after waving a knife at other students. Photo: Winson Wong

He was swiftly taken away by university security guards and later arrested over the 30cm fruit knife.

The man was referring to the chaos at a forum on Wednesday hosted by Wei Shyy, president of HKUST, when a student believed to be from the mainland pushed a Hong Kong student to the ground.

HKUST president vows to condemn police violence if officers broke tear gas rules

Meanwhile at HKUST on Thursday afternoon, a group of more than 30 masked students dashed onto the stage twice at the campus atrium where the graduation ceremonies were held – before an event and later when the national anthem was being played.

During another faculty-based ceremony in the morning, more than 40 graduates held up their palms – a symbol of protesters’ five demands – and wore masks or white ribbons on stage. They were protesting what they saw as inadequate support from the president for students arrested in the civil unrest.

They were also decrying his handling of the case of fellow student Chow Tsz-lok, 22, who suffered brain injuries after falling four metres from a car park during a police dispersal operation on Monday. Chow remained in hospital and in critical condition on Thursday night.

Some graduates did not nod or bow to Shyy, who was presiding over the ceremony. One student shouted in front of Shyy: “Hope rests with the people, change starts with struggle.” The dean of his school refused to shake hands with him.

At Polytechnic University last month, president Teng Jin-guang also refused to shake hands with two masked doctoral graduates on stage.

HKUST students protest outside the graduation ceremony. Photo: Dickson Lee

One HKUST graduate on Thursday, surnamed Cheng, 22, who wore a black mask on stage, said although he had nodded to Shyy to show respect, he hoped the president could “handle matters better, including to listen more to students’ concerns and provide more help to arrested students”.

A doctorate graduate from Shanghai, surnamed Liu, 28, said he felt “shocked” by the protests on Thursday as he had not experienced such activities before. He added that as long as there was no violence used in the expression of one’s opinion, it was still “understandable”.

Education Bureau urges Hong Kong’s headmasters to get students to heed anti-mask law

Two sessions of graduation ceremonies would also be held “as usual” at HKUST on Friday, according to its spokeswoman.

Universities in Hong Kong hold graduation ceremonies from late October to early December.

The Post also asked six other publicly-funded universities on Thursday whether their graduation events would be cancelled. Three replied saying the ceremonies would continue. The other institutions did not respond by press time.

Additional reporting by Karen Zhang

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