The student union of the Education University of Hong Kong has criticised the school for allegedly playing “very joyous party music” to drown out the union president’s pro-independence speech.
But the school said it was customary to play music as part of a more relaxed “welcome reception” for students since 2016.
In an open letter, the student union said that, at the ceremony on Thursday marking the start of the academic year, the university’s president Stephen Cheung concluded his speech by indicating that the party had started and telling students to have fun.
The student union said the procedure for the ceremony was decided in June, and Stephen Cheung should have known that Cheung Yam, president of the provisional executive council of student union, would speak after him. However, because of Stephen Cheung’s remarks, students ignored Cheung Yam’s speech, according to the student union.
The union said that “very joyous party music” was played during Cheung Yam’s speech, unlike ceremonies in past years. The student union asked staff members to stop the music or lower the volume, but the request was declined and students could hardly hear Cheung Yam’s speech.
The student union said Stephen Cheung’s actions disrespected both the student union and the oath-taking ceremony for students that came after the speeches.
It said it suspected that the speech was “silenced” after the school learned of its content – which included discussion of Hong Kong independence – during the rehearsal.
“We urge President Cheung to remember: People must have disrespected themselves before others disrespect them,” it said.
Cheung Yam’s speech mentioned several political events including the Occupy protests, Mong Kok clashes, activist Edward Leung being barred from running in an election, and the potential ban of the Hong Kong National Party, as well as scandals surrounding Secretary for Justice Theresa Cheng and the MTR Corporation.
“We understand that universal suffrage and democracy are impossible goals under Chinese rule. We can only build a place that will truly defend Hong Kong people’s interests by forming a sovereign country outside of China – Hong Kong independence,” he said.
“But the current Hong Kong does not allow us to advocate or pass on our ideals. Some have lost their future and freedom to defend Hong Kong’s freedom and democracy,” he added. “I hope you understand that there is a price for freedom and democracy, and I hope to use this opportunity to pass on this ideal for those who lost their freedom.”
In response, the Education University told Ming Pao that it was part of the ceremony to play music, after it replaced the formal “first assembly” with the more relaxed “welcome reception” in 2016.
It said the goal of the reception was to allow teachers and students to get to know each other in a fun environment. It added that new students welcomed the format in a survey conducted last year.
Last year, Stephen Cheung was one of the ten heads of universities in Hong Kong who signed a joint statement condemning “abuses” of free expression on campus and calling Hong Kong independence unconstitutional.
The move followed the appearance of pro-independence slogans across university campuses and on student union message boards.