A mainland Chinese university blocked two Hong Kong human rights lawyers from teaching a course delivered by the city’s Bar Association earlier this year, and told the group’s chairman not to attend a course ceremony, it has emerged.
The association – the city’s top legal professional body – responded by pulling the course at Peking University, Beijing, indefinitely.
Philip Dykes, who was elected association chairman this January, revealed the news in a circular to his members on Monday, as the Post learned separately that the group’s regular Beijing meet-up with officials and judges would probably not happen this year.
A source said the two barristers Peking University objected to were human rights lawyer Hectar Pun and Cheung Yiu-leung, vice-chairman of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group. They were not allowed to teach the common law course and asked to be replaced, despite having done so for several years. Both have not replied to Post requests for comment.
But a few other members from the group who had also taught on the month-long programme, which ran annually at the university from 2011, were not blacklisted. The course still went ahead this year.
Dykes revealed he was not allowed to attend the closing ceremony of the course in Beijing in June, which he had intended to join to “get to the bottom of the refusal” of the two members continuing their lectures.
“A letter of invitation [to Peking University] was sent to the Bar Secretariat from [Peking University] but, within a day or two, a phone call from the university gave the message that I must not come,” Dykes wrote in the circular. “No explanation was given for the volte face.”
Calling the move by the university “unacceptable”, the Bar Council, the association’s executive committee, decided to suspend the course indefinitely.
The course had previously been offered by the Bar Association to Peking University law school undergraduates and postgraduates. Legal heavyweights including current Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah have taught the course, while former chairmen have always attended the closing ceremony. A 2017 memo by Peking University law school and the Bar Association obtained by the Post indicated the closing ceremony was to be held on June 3 initially.
Jiang Shigong, a law professor at the Peking University Centre for Studies in Politics and Law which coordinated the course, however told RTHK on Monday that no closing ceremony was held this year and he was puzzled by the decision to cancel the programme.
“An invitation was indeed sent [with Dykes welcome to visit the university in the future], just that we did not tell him we were not holding a closing ceremony,” Jiang said, adding Dykes might have been “mistaken”.
“He can come to Peking University if he wishes, there is no question of refusal.”
But Dykes insisted there was a closing ceremony at one point and he received the invitation from Peking University in early May. “[They told me] you may be expected to give a short speech,” he said.
“‘Oh, we cancelled the closing ceremony’ – that wasn’t the reason given [to the Bar].”
Legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok said Peking University had taken a regressive step in censoring who could teach in the course, while chairman of the Bar has always been invited to attend the closing ceremony to deliver a speech and present prizes to students.
“What Jiang said contradicted what happened, I hope he would speak the truth and stop misleading the public,” Kwok said. “If they don’t want to learn about the common law, they might as well come up and say it, instead of barring certain individuals to teach, this is against the fabric of an academic institute.”
Dykes said the association had not been invited to visit mainland authorities and judicial bodies so far this year. Members used to meet mainland officials and judges every other year for topical legal discussions, but that was increased to every year from 2016.
“No plan this year,” Dykes said. “We have got no invitation this year.
“The Bar may plan to visit Beijing every other year instead.”
Another senior member of the Bar Council believed the group’s vocal criticism of the cross-border high-speed rail link’s joint checkpoint plan had angered Beijing.
The association said the so-called co-location arrangement, under which mainland laws will apply in part of the West Kowloon terminal, was in breach of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
Dykes, however, was careful in drawing links between the two incidents, and would not speculate on whether mainland authorities had pressured the university.
“I don’t know [if it’s related to the stance on co-location],” he said.
“I had no difficulty [with Beijing] at all in my past chairmanship [in 2005 and 2006], so nothing has changed as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Senior Counsel and former bar chairman Ronny Tong Ka-wah said it was “disappointing” that Dykes, Pun and Cheung had been turned down by PKU. “It was puzzling for Pun’s case, he has been to Beijing [many times], even during my time as chairman [in 2002],” said Tong.
Tong said it was likely because of their “personal political stance”, particularly in the case of Dykes. Tong said: “From my interaction with the mainland legal sector, they found no problem with the Bar Association, but only have an opinion about certain members in the Bar Council.”
He called on both sides to work to build a normal relationship.
Kwok, the legal sector lawmaker, disputed that the relationship between the Bar Association and the mainland had turned sour. He noted that Dykes also attended a ceremony last week where the city signed cooperation agreements with Shanghai, and Dykes would later attend a delegation to a Guangzhou forum organised by the justice department and the Trade and Development Council next month.
This article Mainland Chinese university bars two Hong Kong human rights lawyers from teaching regular course there first appeared on South China Morning Post