Following the violence at universities in Hong Kong, student organisations and the Students’ Association of the University of St Andrews have come together to formally condemn the actions of the Hong Kong Police Force and support students with connections to Hong Kong.
On Tuesday 19 November, the Association Councils passed “Motion to condemn Hong Kong police brutality and support students with connections to Hong Kong.”
With the passing of the motion, St Andrews joined other Students’ Associations around the UK, including Oxford and Cambridge, in condemning police violence and brutality in Hong Kong.
The motion resolved that the Association would publish a public statement condemning police brutality and supporting Hong Kong people’s right to free speech, along with condemning online harassment of students who support the Hong Kong protests.
The motion also resolved that the Association would work with Student Services and academic staff to “ensure sufficient support is available for students with connections to Hong Kong and students who were harassed for their public opinions supporting Hong Kong protests.”
After the 19 November meeting where the motion was passed, the Association Councils publicly stated on their social media, “The University of St Andrews’ Students Association totally and unreservedly condemns the attack on democracy, free speech, and students that took place in Hong Kong last week.
“Closer to home, and no less importantly, it condemns the bullying and targeted harassment of Hong Kong students who have spoken out about the protests. Any instances of bullying should be reported to the University discipline officer (discipline@).”
The post also encouraged students to sign a petition curated by a number of student societies that expresses solidarity with the people of Hong Kong “who are fighting for freedom and democracy.”
The petition on Change.org states, “Students, academics, and alumni of the University of St Andrews have all been given the opportunity to learn in a diverse, welcoming, and free environment. Those in Hong Kong do not currently possess the extent of freedom we enjoy here including freedom of the press, freedom of speech, the right to assemble or free and open elections. As such, it is our duty to stand in unity with the people of Hong Kong.”
It later states, “We ask that the University of St Andrews issue a statement pledging solidarity with the protesters in Hong Kong as well as the plethora of Hong Kong students, academics and alumni who have called St Andrews home. Barring this, we ask that the university explain why they are choosing to turn a blind eye to this humanitarian issue.”
The petition, which has 116 signatures as of 22 November 2019, comes from St Andrews Stands with Hong Kong, a new coalition comprised of Refugee Action St Andrews (RASA), Democrats Overseas St Andrews, the University of St Andrews Foreign Affairs Society (FAS), St Andrews Hong Kong Public Affairs and Social Services Society, and Amnesty St Andrews.
The Events in Hong Kong
The petition and motion, although aware of the demonstrations occurring in Hong Kong over the past six months, focuses on the events that have taken place at universities in Hong Kong.
On Tuesday 12 November 2019, the Hong Kong Police Force stormed The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), firing over 1500 tear gas canisters and over 1300 rubber bullets on the campus.
According to St Andrews Stands for Hong Kong, “Police could be heard firing their weapons near student residences continuously for around 15 minutes, arresting student protesters and leaving multiple students injured.”
The motion also stated that Hong Kong students constitute the fifth largest student population at St Andrews, and that some students who have voiced their opinions publicly in support of the Hong Kong protests have been harassed online.
Additionally, on Monday 18 November, protesters trying to leave the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong (PolyU) were met with tear gas and rubber bullets by police surrounding the campus, according to the BBC. Before the violence, University officials said that police would not use force if protesters themselves did not use force.
Many universities in Hong Kong have taken to closing for the foreseeable future. In a public statement, CUHK said it was shortening their academic term and would not resume classes until 6 January 2020, along with Baptist University suspending on-campuses classes until the end of term on 3 December.
The University Response
Together, the coalition sent a message with similar language to that of the petition and motion, discussing the recent events at Hong Kong universities and encouraging the University to take action.
Addressed to the University Chancellor, Sir Menzies Campbell, and Vice-Chancellor and Principal Sally Mapstone, the coalition stated, “While the University of St Andrews does not have a partnership with CUHK [The Chinese University of Hong Kong, where the events took place], the University does have a longstanding relationship with The University of Hong Kong (HKU) as exchange partners, to enable students to participate in overseas exchange programs in a safe and secure environment.
“However, with the recent incidents that took place at CUHK, we have serious concerns for the safety of our University students and staff now being placed in Hong Kong.”
The email urged the University to issue a public statement condemning the action of Hong Kong Police Force and supporting Hong Kong students at the University, issue a joint public statement with other local universities to demand CUHK offer appropriate protection to its students and staff, as well as other measures, including reconsidering partnerships with Hong Kong universities.
In response, Vice Principal (International Strategy and External Relations) Brad Mackay said, “Thank you very much for your email to the Chancellor, Lord Campbell, and to the Principal, Professor Mapstone, and for your concern with the safety of our students in Hong Kong. The Principal is travelling at present and has asked me to reply on behalf of herself and the Chancellor.
“We have been, and continue to monitor the situation in Hong Kong carefully; our Global Office has been in touch with our students currently on exchange in Hong Kong, and we are taking all necessary action to ensure their safety and security. We are also in close contact with colleagues in universities in Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong is an important partner for the University, and we have long-standing historical connections there, as your email points out. The current situation is troubling, and particularly the deterioration of the situation over the weekend. As a university, we value robust debate and dialogue, accompanied by tolerance for different points of view and perspectives. We abhor violence in any form and by any party. This is an enduring value shared across and within our community, and one that we are committed to.”
He continued, “We very much hope that both the authorities and the protesters in Hong Kong are able to find their way back to the negotiating table to find a peaceful resolution to the current crisis, and to find a way of protecting Hong Kong’s unique character. We are of the view, however, that issuing a public statement at this time risks exacerbating divisions, rather than facilitating a constructive solution through dialogue as quickly as possible.
“The safety and well-fare of our staff and student community is of paramount importance to the University, both at home and abroad. This must be our priority.”
On the University response, St Andrews Stands with Hong Kong expressed disappointment with the University’s lack of action and attributed the lack of public statements by institutions, including the University of St Andrews, to the increasing violence at universities in Hong Kong.
They stated publicly on their Facebook page, where the response from Vice-Principal MacKay was shared, “We find that the University response is inadequate and wilfully blind to the current situation. This is not a scenario where both parties have walked away from some sort of ‘negotiating table’ — the students and other protestors of Hong Kong were never let into the negotiation room, let alone provided a seat at the table. Efforts have repeatedly been made by one side only, the protestors, to negotiate — with the police and government continually acting dishonestly and arresting protestors and bystanders.
“With the lack of statement from the institutions of the world, including the University of St Andrews, conditions continue to worsen and the sanctity of spaces including those of learning continue to be denigrated. [On 17 November], another university — the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong — was stormed by police, threatening to use live ammunition on protestors.”
The University of St Andrews is one of few universities that has not recalled students from Hong Kong. According to The Independent, more than half of the universities in the Russell Group have repatriated students, including Edinburgh, Manchester, Southampton, York, Bristol, and Warwick.
A Universities UK spokesperson said, “Ensuring the safety and welfare of their students is a top priority for universities. Universities have been monitoring the situation in Hong Kong as it unfolds and are in close contact with their students there.
“Universities UK is in conversation with institutions who have students studying in Hong Kong and there are arrangements in place for the safe return of affected students to the UK where necessary.”
The Student Response
Speaking to The Saint, many students spoke of their reasoning behind joining the efforts to condemn the events in Hong Kong from St Andrews.
Jack Angus Nevin, secretary of Democrats Overseas and one of three organisers for St Andrews Stands with Hong Kong, said, “I was driven to organise this project not because I had any connection to Hong Kong, but because I believe in the protection of human rights, the importance of the right to free speech and am against brutality in all its forms.
“Democrats Overseas shares these beliefs and will continue to share the petition in order to try and get a response from the university. We were heartened in this effort by the unanimous approval of the motion put to the students association representative council.”
Sharing his sentiments, Research Officer of RASA Jocelyn Chau said on behalf of Refugee Action St Andrews, “RASA is against any sort of violence and supports democracy around the world. It’s nice to see that so many societies are not only aware of the situation in Hong Kong but also publicly voice support for those fighting for democracy.
“It’s also amazing to see that St Andrews students have been increasingly more involved in raising awareness of world issues from the refugee crisis to climate change and to now, the Hong Kong protests. They have also been more vocal about social injustice around the world. As for us, RASA has been sharing on our Facebook page the updates on the Student Motion for Hong Kong and will continue to do.”
Apart from those formally involved with St Andrews Stands with Hong Kong, students have publicly expressed their support for the movement as well.
Kieran Forster said via Change.org, “The infringement upon the rights of the citizens of Hong Kong is absolutely unacceptable and has no place in our society. Police brutality and censorship are issues that we take very seriously in our own country, so we must stand by our kin in solidarity.
“At the very least, [University of St Andrews] has and should always remain a bastion of free speech and discussion, and a failure to show our support to our own international students would be a great disappointment. This is why I am signing this petition, and others should do too.”
Over the summer, fourth-year student Emily Watson — who calls Hong Kong home — said, “I have to say that I am scared for my home, for the people of my city and for our freedom. The violence of a small group of protesters may certainly make a statement, but it must be said that it does not represent the thousands of peaceful protesters that have taken to our streets. This is frightening. The actions of a few can destroy the accomplishments and actions of many others. I stand with HK.”
The Global Response
With the formation of St Andrews Stands with Hong Kong and the grassroots action in the community, St Andrews joins over 68 other organisations around the world, as of Monday 18 November, in condemning the “abhorrent” actions of the Hong Kong Police Force and Hong Kong government in besieging PolyU and other universities in Hong Kong.
The organisations range from Scotland and Australia, to Toronto and Los Angeles, to France and New Zealand.
Their joint statement urges the passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law, for the US government to issue a statement of potential revocation of Hong Kong’s special trade status under the US-Hong Kong Policy Act, and for a moratorium on visas issued to all employers of the Hong Kong Police Force and their immediate family members.
Readers interested in supporting and standing with Hong Kong students can sign the petition here.