2017-03-27 University of Hong Kong

March 27, 2017
Imprisonment / Prosecution
New Incident
Region/Sub-region: Country or Territory: 
University of Hong Kong

On March 27, 2017, state authorities arrested University of Hong Kong professors Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Chan Kin-man, Hong Kong Federation of Students leaders Tommy Cheung Sau-yin and Eason Chung, and five others, in connection with their work in support of Hong Kong’s Occupy campaign.

Professor Tai, a legal scholar, and Professor Chan, a scholar of sociology, played key roles in organizing the Occupy campaign, a social movement launched in 2014 that called for electoral and democratic reforms in Hong Kong. The movement gained international notoriety due to a 79-day sit-in in Hong Kong’s Central Square that began on September 28, 2014. The sit-in was reportedly co-organized by Professors Tai and Chan, and one of their co-defendants, Reverend Chu Yiu-ming.

On the night of March 27, 2017 -- one day after the election of Beijing-backed Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngo as Hong Kong Chief Executive -- Professors Tai and Chan, along with Messrs. Cheung and Chung and five others, were arrested and charged in connection with their roles in the Occupy movement. The scholars and Reverend Chu were each charged with “conspiracy to commit public nuisance,” “inciting others to commit public nuisance,” and “inciting people to incite others to commit public nuisance,” which apparently relate to the sit-in. If convicted, they could face up to 21 years imprisonment. The remaining co-defendants, including Messrs. Cheung and Chung, are facing up to 14 years imprisonment if convicted of the incitement-related charges brought against them. All nine were released on bail later that night and are scheduled to appear in court on March 30.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary arrest and prosecution of scholars in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and association -- conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Arrests intended to limit freedom of expression and association undermine academic freedom and society generally. State authorities have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of free expression, due process, and fair trial.