China puts Hong Kong’s Academic freedom in Danger

According to a report, Hong Kong’s universities, running as a beacon of academic freedom, bastions of freewheeling activism, and discussion, are under peril of losing their internationally appreciated rank. Universities have been increasingly curbing their pupil’s freedom of expression. Honest & outspoken professors are being removed from their posts. Government-appointed officials are running the schools against the will of the students and staff.

These revelations were made after Kevin Carrico, a professor at Macquarie University in Australia, published a report for the NGO Hong Kong Watch. The report focuses on the progress in the past two years, after the watershed street rallies where students filled major streets for 11 weeks while demanding greater democracy.

Students at several Hong Kong universities were cautioned last year for posting banners that called for the city to proclaim independence from China. All 10 university administrators issued a joint statement saying, “freedom of expression is not absolute.” The government replied by saying that such opinions & sentiments are illegal.

Peter Mathieson, the incoming vice-chancellor of Edinburgh University who is currently at the University of Hong Kong, was heavily scrutinized by staff for his role in the debate.
The report stated:

“By placing arbitrary and political limits on the exercise of speech rights, Hong Kong’s government and universities undermine Hong Kong’s longstanding rule of law and open the door for ever greater restrictions on speech. These universities are compromising their distinctiveness from universities elsewhere in China and thereby actively abandoning their competitive advantages as world-class research centers.”

The report comes as the House of Commons and the House of Lords plan to debate issues of democracy and autonomy in Hong Kong.It was published by the Hong Kong Watch, founded after a British human rights activist was denied entry to the city without reason. The author, Carrico, teaches contemporary Chinese history and is investigating the political movements in Hong Kong.

The UK handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997. The territory was granted the permission to maintain freedom of expression, a non-existent right in mainland China. A separate education system was also established. Academic freedom has worsened to such an extent that independent monitoring groups have been allotted to monitor all universities, the report says.

The report also asks the UK government to “actively monitor the situation, and state the consequences …for continued infringements of academic freedom and freedom of speech”.
The UK provides a biannual report on Hong Kong’s situation as part of the treaty with China. Hong Kong’s chief executive position as the head of all the city’s universities, a remnant from the British colonial period, should also be eliminated, restoring control to the universities, the report urges.

The Hong Kong government did not acknowledge or respond to any of these requests as of now.