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Hong Kong University sacks veteran democracy activist

Benny Tai, pro-democracy activist and associate professor of law in University of Hong Kong. File photo

Benny Tai, pro-democracy activist and associate professor of law in University of Hong Kong. File photo   | Photo Credit: AP

The University of Hong Kong (HKU) on Tuesday sacked veteran pro-democracy activist Benny Tai from his tenured position as an associate professor of law, a move he called “the end of academic freedom” in the Chinese-ruled city.

Mr. Tai was a leading figure in Hong Kong's 2014 “Umbrella” protests, which paralysed the city for 79 days as demonstrators occupied main roads demanding greater democracy.

He was sentenced to 16 months in prison last year for two public nuisance offences, but released on bail pending an appeal - a conviction that prompted HKU to begin reviewing his position.

Also read: Ground Zero | The tale of Hong Kong, a city torn between two systems

Tuesday's decision by the governing council reversed an earlier decision by the university senate that there were not enough grounds for a dismissal.

“It marks the end of academic freedom in Hong Kong,” Mr. Tai said on Facebook. “Academic institutions in Hong Kong cannot protect their members from internal and outside interferences.”

Also read: China passes national security law for Hong Kong

Mr. Tai was also singled out by Beijing officials this month for his role in helping organise an unofficial primary vote for the opposition pro-democracy camp to select candidates for elections to the city legislature.

The officials said the vote was illegal and potentially violated a new, sweeping national security law that many fear will erode freedoms in the semi-autonomous city, including those of the media and academia.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Hong Kong Liaison Office, Beijing's main representation in the city, said Mr. Tai's sacking was “just an act of punishing evil, promoting good and conforming to the peoples will”.

They said Mr. Tai's words and deeds “have severely intensified social conflicts in Hong Kong and poisoned Hong Kong's political environment”.

Beijing and the Hong Kong government have said the law will not affect rights and freedoms, and that it is needed to plug security loopholes.

HKU said in a statement that its council had resolved a personnel issue” following a “lengthy”, “stringent” and ”impartial” process, without naming Mr. Tai.

The university could not be reached for comment outside business hours.

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2020 12:14:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/hong-kong-university-sacks-veteran-democracy-activist/article32218777.ece

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