Hong Kong’s leading university on Saturday tore down a so-called Lennon Wall, where students posted anti-government messages, and barricaded the site after a contract allowing them to use the area was not renewed.
Earlier in the week, the city’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who is also chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, had warned that law enforcement could intervene if HKU did not comply with the sweeping national security legislation when asked about the controversial message board.
The law, which was imposed by Beijing on June 30 and bans acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, has a clause stating that the Hong Kong government “shall promote national security education in schools and universities”.
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HKU’s student union on Saturday said the university’s accommodation committee had rejected its application to renew the contract to manage the site and wall space the previous day. The agreement that gave the students the right to use the area along University Street – which had been renewed every three years – expired on Thursday.
University Street opened in 2013 as a pedestrian walkway with long benches and counters, linking the main campus with the Centennial Campus.
The union said Lennon Walls demonstrated there was freedom of speech on campus and tearing down such messages meant that universities had become a target of political oppression.
“This is an outrageous threat to force the university to submit to authoritarianism and to deprive students of the freedom of expression,” the union wrote on social media.
Student union president Edy Jeh Tsz-lam said the security department of the university’s Estates Office had hired people to tear down the wall.
Asked if the union would call on students to rebuild the message board, Jeh said: “For now we’re still discussing because we do not have the management [rights] of the space any more, so anything that is put up could be torn down right away,”
An HKU spokesman said the university decided that the site, which is near an exit of an MTR station, should be returned because of safety concerns.
“The university will continue to hold discussions with the student union to explore and identify other areas suitable for student activities which will not impede traffic flow,” HKU said.
The spokesman said the university first allocated the area to the union to hold activities in 2017 and subsequently renewed the contract in 2018.
Two weeks ago, a group of about 30 people, who claimed they were “cleansing” the campus, tore down the wall which was covered with pro-democracy messages and condemnation of the Chinese government. In response, the union said it would “strive to safeguard the freedom of expression of students” following the incident.
That was the second time in four months that the Lennon Wall had been vandalised. On July 11, at least eight people ripped up posters on it.
Colourful collages of Post-it notes and posters have been a landmark feature of Hong Kong’s protests since the 2014 Occupy movement. Lennon Walls sprang up in places such as cafes, footbridges and campuses across the city last year during anti-government demonstrations sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill, with messages of support for the protesters.
But they also became conflict hotspots between protest supporters and their political rivals in the pro-government camp especially at the height of the social unrest.
The original Lennon Wall was established in the 1980s in the Czech capital Prague and was covered with graffiti and lyrics inspired by the Beatles.
The education sector has come under the spotlight over the past week, after the authorities deregistered a teacher they accused of spreading pro-independence messages in a primary school class.