The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s student union has formally disbanded, eight months after school management cut ties with the body citing possible national security law breaches.
The decision, revealed on Thursday, follows similar moves in recent months by opposition groups such as the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions.
In February, university management imposed a raft of restrictions on the union, including suspending its executive members from ex officio positions on all CUHK committees, and notifying the group it would have to assume legal responsibility for itself by registering as an independent society or company.
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The moves followed the 12-member union cabinet’s release of an 80-page manifesto accusing the university of working with police to have students arrested after an attack on campus security guards.
The platform of Syzygia, the group elected to run the union, had also argued that the Beijing-imposed national security law infringed on residents’ basic rights and freedoms and was a disgrace to the dignity of Hongkongers.
“We are now torn between following the legal advice [and] complying with the university administration’s demand [that we register as an independent society]
Chinese University Student Union Council statement
Syzygia’s leadership resigned almost immediately after the university severed ties with the body, citing what they said was an escalating campaign of threats and intimidation, though the union remained intact.
In a statement released on Thursday, the union said it had sought professional legal counsel on the university’s decisions and been advised it “did not need to be registered independently”, as the relevant ordinances governing society registrations were not applicable to the student group.
“We are now torn between following the legal advice [and] complying with the university administration’s demand,” the statement on the union’s official Facebook page read.
Student representatives convened a meeting on September 10 to give the matter serious and deliberate consideration, according to the statement, adopting a motion to “accept the collective resignation of the student representatives of the [Chinese University Student Union] Council and to dissolve the CUSU”.
A representative of the now-defunct student union reached by the Post declined to comment beyond the content of the statement, while the group’s website had been taken down.
Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung, who was president of CUHK’s student union in 1987, said he was worried about a “domino effect” among other university groups.
“When the front, the alliance and other social organisations closed down one after the other, and many student unions were asked to register independently, I’m not sure whether the universities were making their own decisions, or whether they faced pressure to make the same decision,” he said.
“The union was also a platform through which the students’ views could be reflected to the university, so its disbandment will affect those consultative processes too.”
In July, the University of Hong Kong’s student union was embroiled in its own controversy after dozens of student council representatives passed a motion praising the “sacrifice” of an assailant who stabbed a police officer before killing himself.
The resolution drew immediate condemnation from university management, the Security Bureau and Hong Kong’s education minister, leading to the student union council withdrawing the motion and a number of its student leaders apologising and stepping down.
HKU still decided to sever all ties with the student union later that month, and banned a total of 44 student representatives from entering the campus. The ban was later lifted for 18 among that group.
In August, the president of the student union and its council chairman were arrested on national security grounds, becoming the first suspects charged with “advocating terrorism” under the Beijing-imposed law. The crime carries a sentence of five to 10 years.