Two Baptist University students involved in a protest over a Mandarin-language graduation requirement in January have received suspension orders from the school. They said that they will appeal the decision.
Undergraduate students at the school are required to reach “foundation Putonghua proficiency” in order to graduate. They must either enrol in a Mandarin course, or prove their language proficiency – such as by passing an exemption test.
Student Union President Lau Tsz-kei and Chinese medicine student Andrew Chan Lok-hang were amongst students who took part in a protest at the school’s language centre in January after it was revealed that 70 per cent of the students failed the exemption test. The demonstration garnered public attention when a video emerged showing Lau swearing at staff members.
The pair were temporarily suspended by the school following the incident, sparking a rally on campus in their support. They were ordered to attend a disciplinary hearing, and the school later lifted their suspension after the pair apologised to the staff at the language centre.
But Lau and Chan said they received a notice last week informing them of the school’s disciplinary action against them. Lau was suspended for a semester while Chan received a suspension order of eight days, they told reporters at a press conference on Monday.
As they were previously suspended, Chan has already completed his suspension, but he is required to perform 40 hours of service for the school, while Lau is required to attend counselling sessions. Both must also write an apology letter to the language centre.
The students said they will appeal the decision. Chan said he may consider lodging a judicial review if their appeal proves unsuccessful. Chan said that the protesters did not threaten the safety of any teachers or students, and called the decision to suspend them unreasonable.
According to Chan, the school said in its decision that he made a threatening gesture on the day of the demonstration, but he was not given an opportunity to respond to the charge during the hearing.
“We can see that when it comes to voices on reforming school policies, the school only wants students to shut up; they do not want them to take part or even care. They only want students to not take any actions that challenge their authority. So that’s quite disappointing,” Lau said.
The Hong Kong Federation of Students and eight higher institutions in Hong Kong issued a statement on Monday evening, calling the move a suppression of student movements and freedom.
The statement said the punishments reflected the hardline stance that a totalitarian government adopts towards all dissenters, tolerating not even peaceful movements on campus. They also called on Hongkongers to support the students.
However, Roger Wong Hoi-fung, a member of the school’s governing council, said on an RTHK programme on Monday that, based on his understanding, the teachers felt threatened by the students during the protest. Wong added that he thought the punishment received by the two students was too lenient.