A Hong Kong university has threatened to cancel a student exhibition commemorating one of the most chaotic episodes of last year’s anti-government protests over a poster it described as potentially illegal.
Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) students have released a poster bearing the popular protest slogan “Free Hong Kong; revolution now” to advertise an upcoming display marking demonstrators’ occupation of the Sha Tin campus and the subsequent police siege in November 2019.
CUHK on Wednesday night said the poster carried “biased descriptions” and demanded that the student organisers immediately amended or removed it, urging them “not to challenge the law”.
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The exhibition commemorates the “Siege of CUHK”, referring to anti-government protesters’ takeover of the Sha Tin campus from November 11, where fiery clashes between radical protesters and riot police had broken out.
Protesters on the campus had thrown objects from a bridge onto the highway and railway tracks beneath to block traffic, sparking a five-day occupation which turned the education site into a battlefield, with tear gas and petrol bombs exchanged between police and hardcore elements of the anti-government movement.
The words “Free Hong Kong; revolution now” – a rallying call of Hong Kong protesters in 2019 – were printed in English on a black flag featured on the poster advertising the exhibition. The phrase on the flag was partially obscured.
Chinese University was one of the six campuses occupied by demonstrators during the protest mayhem that gripped Hong Kong for much of November last year.
CUHK suffered some of the most extensive damage, with only Polytechnic University’s Hung Hom campus coming off worse from a 13-day siege involving a fierce stand-off between police and protesters.
The week-long exhibition, organised by the university’s student bodies including its student union, was scheduled to run on campus between November 11 and 18. A timeline and photographs of last year’s incident would form part of the display.
The slogan – which has the alternative English translation of “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times” – has been deemed by Hong Kong authorities as violating the sweeping national security law that Beijing imposed on the city on June 30 this year.
Under a headline of “Never Forgive, Never Forget”, the poster shows scenes from the campus occupation of protesters wearing gas masks, crouching behind improvised defences and holding up flags.
Also pictured is Vice-Chancellor Rocky Tuan Sung-chi, who was tear-gassed while attempting to mediate between protesters and police during the siege, and former university chief Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, who engaged in talks with demonstrators on campus.
The student union wrote on its Facebook page on Wednesday that the incident must be remembered, as the “psychological traumatic experience of the siege continues to haunt us, and is forever etched deeply into our hearts and minds”.
But within hours of the poster appearing online, the university issued a written statement saying it was “deeply concerned” about the promotional material distributed by students for the exhibition, warning some of its content “may be illegal”.
“The incident which happened at CUHK in November last year has affected not only university stakeholders but also the general public,” the statement read.
It added: “The university back then already strongly condemned such irresponsible behaviour which jeopardised human lives. Our campus also suffered large-scale vandalism by masked people, and it took great effort from across the university to heal the wound.”
The statement said the university felt “extreme regret over biased descriptions” of the incident by the student organisers, adding it would not tolerate any illegal behaviour and would follow up on any acts damaging the institution’s reputation.
CUHK said the venue where the exhibition was supposed to take place was managed by the student union under the university’s authorisation, adding it was within its rights and responsibilities to cancel events which violated the rules.
The student union of Chinese University’s New Asia College, one of the event’s co-organisers, accused management of making unreasonable demands and practising “self-censorship”, saying the protest scenes depicted on the poster were merely “showing the historical truth” based on real photos.
Anson Yip Tsz-huen, vice-chairwoman of Chinese University student union’s provisional executive committee, said she was “frustrated” by the institution’s reaction.
She said the union received a call from the university asking it to remove the poster within an hour of students publishing it online at about 8pm on Wednesday. She added the union would not take down the poster at this point in time.
Triggered last June by a since-withdrawn extradition bill, the protests developed into a wider anti-government campaign fuelled by allegations of police brutality and the push for more democracy.
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