University students union dissolves amid collapsing civil society
The student union at one of Hong Kong’s top universities has announced its dissolution, citing growing problems since the university administration “severed ties” with the student body earlier this year.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUSU) student union is the second student body to dissolve in Hong Kong since the National Security Act, which prohibits acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The University of Hong Kong Students Union was dissolved in August.
The CUSU, founded in 1971, said in a statement issued Oct. 7 that “for 50 years CUSU has existed as an independent student organization whose representatives have been democratically elected. It is a matter of deep regret that CUSU is now a thing of the past. “
The union said the decision came after the CUHK administration announced in February that the university would stop collecting fees for the union from September. “They demanded that we register through government agencies instead of recognizing our registration on campus, as is the long established practice. “
Six of Hong Kong’s eight publicly funded universities stopped collecting dues from their student unions as of September, severing the official link between university administrations and student unions.
The CUSU said the decision to dissolve also followed difficulties in reconciling professional legal advice with instructions from university management to register the organization for the new academic year with government agencies.
“We are now torn between following legal advice or complying with the request of the administration of the university”, one can read in its press release.
The union said that “as a member of the CUHK community, we have always maintained open channels of communication with the university administration. Even during the most serious challenges, the administration continued to recognize and assert our legitimacy and legal status on campus.
However, that changed in February when the CUHK administration said it would stop collecting fees on behalf of the student union, stop providing venues for its activities, suspend administrative support, suspend its members from their posts. in all university committees and would force him to register. as an independent body and assume its own legal responsibility.
Tensions between the CUHK administration and students increased after national security police arrested ten students after slogans considered banned under national security laws were displayed during a march by protest on campus in November 2020. The university administration called the police on campus for what it called an “unauthorized protest and procession” by graduate students.
Decimation of civil society and trade unions
The dissolution of student unions at two of Hong Kong’s oldest and most prestigious universities comes amid decimation of civil society, unions and democratic organizations in Hong Kong since the entry into force of the Law on security in July 2020.
Many activists said they were stunned by the speed at which civil society organizations and unions were dismantled.
Some were forced to shut down after threats and campaigns by pro-Beijing groups in Hong Kong or reports in pro-Beijing media that they would be under investigation for receiving foreign or other donations. activities “contrary to the security law”.
The University of Hong Kong student union was forced to shut down after criticism not only from pro-Beijing media in Hong Kong, but also directly from the official Communist Party organ, the People’s Daily in April of this year.
In August, four student leaders from the University of Hong Kong were arrested by police and charged with national security offenses, including “advocating terrorism” for a statement made by the leadership of a student union in favor of a man who stabbed a policeman.
Overall, in Hong Kong, around 50 civil society groups and unions have gone out of business in recent months, including the city’s largest teachers’ union, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union (HKPTU). representing more than 95,000 or 90% of teachers in schools in Hong Kong. It announced in August that it was shutting down operations and liquidating its substantial assets, including real estate investments, in Hong Kong.
“We felt tremendous pressure,” HKPTU chairman Fung Wai-wah said at a press conference in early August. Fung said the union had struggled to find ways to continue its operations, but still failed to find ways to “resolve the crisis.”
“I can only say that the social and political situation has changed too quickly and too quickly, and our decision [to shut down] was made in response to these changes, ”Fung said.
Educators and activists in fear
Joshua Rosenzweig of the rights group Amnesty International said the disbandment of the HKPTU showed the level of fear among educators: “This is the latest in a disturbing trend which the Hong Kong authorities are willingly taking into account. shrill but baseless appeals targeting groups or individuals in Hong Kong.
“After effectively neutralizing the political opposition, the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities now appear to be stepping up their attempts to eliminate civil society groups that have strong mobilizing capacity – a worrying development for other unions still active in the city. “, did he declare.
Other groups that have announced in recent months that they will be going out of business include the Progressive Lawyers Group, the Progressive Teachers Alliance and the Civil Human Rights Front with more than 40 affiliated groups.
The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, the city’s largest independent labor group with 93 affiliated unions and a total of 145,000 members, was dissolved on Sunday after a membership vote.
Vice President Leo Tang told a press conference on Oct. 4 that “political uncertainty” made the prosecution difficult. He was quoted as saying that members of the group had received threats to their personal safety.
The union has 15 training centers in Hong Kong, offering more than 200 vocational courses. These will have to close, affecting more than 1,000 students, the union said.
The Hong Kong Security Bureau warned on Oct. 3 that the groups would not escape liability for criminal offenses by going their separate ways. “[A]The organization and its members remain criminally responsible for the offenses they have committed, notwithstanding its dissolution or the resignation of its members, ”a statement said on Sunday evening.
“The police will continue to make every effort to prosecute the legal responsibilities of any organization and person suspected of having violated the Hong Kong National Security Law … or other Hong Kong laws,” the Office said. Security.