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Hong Kong and Xinjiang: tightening grip on education institutions at all levels

On 4 October, Hong Kong government enacted controversial “emergency laws” to ban masks at legal or illegal protests despite refraining from labelling the city as “in a state of emergency”. It was met with mass protests and the  violent scenes involving the protesters and allegedly undercover police officers in the weekend that followed, turning the city into a de facto emergency state.

Following the enactment of the anti-mask law, mass arrests of students in uniforms and students on university campuses were reported. Education institutions were instructed by the Education Bureau to ban students from using masks and to report regularly on the number of masked students. On 12 October, the Bureau Chief announced in a media interview that the Bureau will introduce parental education in the future to ensure that adults do not offer protection to youngsters who act in defiance of the law. This public statement came a day after the President of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Rocky Tuan responded to a brave student’s pleading for issuing an open letter to urge the government to launch an independent inquiry into the police’s abuse of powers.

The President of CUHK issued an open letter on 18 October, nonetheless. The letter invited a flurry of attacks by Chinese state media (People’s Daily, China Daily), former Chief Executive CY Leung, and politically-appointed heads of eight university councils (incl. that of CUHK’s) who said “universities are not battlegrounds for the resolution of political issues and should not be drawn into supporting any particular political position”. Initiating an independent inquiry has been one of the five core demands of the protesters since June (see ACA Newsletter September Edition).

Tuan would likely be the first and the last of university presidents in Hong Kong to openly speak up in support of the students. Students of another leading university – The University of Hong Kong – are currently looking for their President who they joked “went missing” since July.

Meanwhile news about the missing Head of Xinjiang University Tashpolat Tiyip, an internationally renowned geographer, continues to circulate in the media. He was last seen on his way to Europe for a conference and to launch a co-operation with a German university in 2017.  On September 18, a Declaration was issued by the Alumni Association and Student Union of Lee Woo Sing College of CUHK in support of Tashopolat Tiyip and Halmurat Ghopur, former President of Xinjiang Medical University who, reportedly, are to be executed due to "separatism" and "spreading extremism".  Amnesty International and Scholars at Risk also called for urgent actions to halt the execution of the two.

On a related note, the European Parliament awarded the Sakharov prize to prof. Ilham Tothi, a renowned Uyghur economist fighting for rights of China’s Uyghur minority.