Hong Kong university sacks Benny Tai over illegal 'Occupy Central'

Clay Curtis
July 31, 2020

The 2014 Umbrella movement, inspired by Tai, was a largely peaceful protest to push for more direct democracy in Hong Kong.

While the university cases against Tai and Shiu predate Hong Kong's draconian national security law, academics say they are a foretaste of what could come. Tai aided in organizing opposition primaries, attracting hundreds of thousands of voters to engage in the upcoming elections to Hong Kong's parliament.

The Council of the University of Hong Kong said in a statement that, "to ensure a due and proper enquiry into the matter, the staff member was given a full opportunity to present the facts, submit written statements and relevant documents, and present the case in writing and in person".

The University Senate, a separate body made up mainly of teaching staff recently said in early July that there was insufficient grounds to dismiss Tai, despite finding he had committed misconduct.

Prof Tai is a leading figure within Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.

Another university alumni, Choy So-yuk, a former lawmaker from the city, said Tai had been unqualified for the post by advocating breach of law, and, hence, the HKU, a prestigious university in the city, should not continue to tolerate this.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong-Beijing Liaison Office, which represents Beijing's government in Hong Kong, welcomed his removal, saying: "The University of Hong Kong's decision to fire Benny Tai is a move that punishes evil and praises the virtuous".

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Another Occupy Central leader, Benny Lai, is expected to be fired from Hong Kong University (HKU).

Having served on the law faculty of HKU - his alma mater - for 30 years, Tai said he would continue his research and teaching in another capacity. "Academic institutions in Hong Kong can not protect their members from internal and outside interferences", Tai said.

The university could not be reached for comment outside business hours. However, critics and protesters of the law in Hong Kong argue the terms are loosely drawn in order to infringe upon the individual liberties of the city's residents. However, the final word belongs to the council, which includes many pro-Beijing members.

Undergraduate representative on the HKU council Nathaniel Lei said after the meeting that he was "disappointed and furious" at the decision.

HKU Student Union president Edy Jeh condemned the HKU council decision.

Tai has always been a thorn in the side of pro-Beijing groups, who earlier this week singled him out for approbrium for last month organising an informal poll - described as "primaries" - of voters to select candidates from the pro-democracy parties to stand for Hong Kong's legislative council elections now scheduled for September.

Local media reported that the elections slated for September could be postponed due to COVID-19. It said the vote was illegal and may have violated a new, sweeping national security law, which many fear will erode freedoms in the semi-autonomous city, including those of the media and academia. But universities have stressed that no policies have changed as a result of the law. "Yet. I have the confidence to see the rebirth of a free HKU in the future".

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