Threats to academic freedom in Hong Kong

Jerome Cohen

Here is an article by David Matthew today on how Hong Kong academics critical of Beijing have been put under pressures, subtle or flagrant. It reports, “Press attacks and council control…have been the weapons of choice against the most prominent academic figures in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. But some believe that the highly politicised environment in Hong Kong is also beginning to affect the climate for day-to-day teaching and research.”

 Johannes Chan Man-mun (Photo by Voice of America Tang Huiyun, 美國之音湯惠芸)

Johannes Chan Man-mun (Photo by Voice of America Tang Huiyun, 美國之音湯惠芸)

This further development is disturbing. The current struggle over the appointment of former law school dean Johannes Chan as pro-vice chancellor at University of Hong Kong is a more visible litmus test. HK is no longer a safe haven for holding conferences or even informal exchanges with scholars and lawyers from China, as again illustrated by today’s news that five Mainland human rights lawyers have just been stopped from leaving for HK.

On his impending visits to the US and UK, Xi Jinping should be questioned on every occasion about this as well as his vicious repression of human rights lawyers, IF any of his hosts – official or unofficial – have the wit and guts to insist on allowing unscripted questions.

Today’s very moving BBC interview with the wife of LI Heping, a genuinely great human rights lawyer and friend, only adds fuel to what may become a bonfire. Xi Jinping is evidently putting into practice his belief that China should be guided by the ancient dictatorial philosophy of its notoriously repressive Legalists rather than by the “universal” legal values reflected in the 25 international human rights documents to which his predecessors voluntarily committed the PRC. Beijing’s new slogan for governance might be “Leninist Legalism”. Or should it be “Legalist Leninism”?