HONG KONG, Nov 5 (Reuters) – Final month, a number of thousand Hong Kong college college students, a few of them below the watch of a CCTV digital camera, have been the primary to take obligatory programs on the territory’s nationwide safety legislation.
The content material of the programs, a few of which Reuters has seen completely, units out the risks of breaking the legislation, in a single case demonstrating how a message in a chat group may very well be interpreted as a severe breach, punishable by as much as life in jail.
At Hong Kong Baptist College, at the very least one CCTV digital camera was current within the lecture corridor, whereas an unidentified photographer took footage, in keeping with two college students who attended.
Critics stated the programs symbolize an assault on educational freedom in Hong Kong’s Western-style college schooling system.
“In precept, making necessities on explicit courses is a really severe infringement of educational freedom,” stated Katrin Kinzelbach, a political scientist on the College of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany, who has performed intensive analysis into educational freedom at universities world wide.
“Tutorial freedom means you might examine and train what you have an interest in. It additionally means the liberty to not interact particularly courses.”
Hong Kong’s nationwide safety legislation, imposed by Beijing final 12 months, itself stipulates that nationwide safety have to be taught in faculties and universities. Hong Kong’s Training Secretary Kevin Yeung stated earlier this 12 months that it was a “requirement” for larger schooling establishments to include nationwide safety schooling into their curriculum, in keeping with a authorities assertion.
The legislation punishes something Beijing regards as secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with overseas forces with as much as life in jail.
A spokeswoman for Hong Kong’s Training Bureau stated in an emailed response to Reuters that it’s a “statutory obligation” to advertise nationwide safety schooling in universities.
“The neighborhood would count on the colleges to uphold good governance and accountability to the general public, and their operations need to adjust to the legislation and meet the pursuits of scholars and the neighborhood at giant,” the spokeswoman stated.
The bureau, added, nevertheless, that educational freedom and institutional autonomy “are necessary social values treasured” by the Hong Kong authorities and enshrined in native legal guidelines.
Baptist College, a publicly funded liberal arts school with a Christian heritage, didn’t instantly reply to a request for touch upon its course or why a CCTV digital camera was current within the lecture corridor.
The introduction of the programs is the newest transfer by the pro-Beijing authorities to clamp down on universities and their college students, which Hong Kong and Chinese language authorities blamed for stoking and main a number of the sometimes violent pro-democracy protests that happened in 2019.
Virtually 4,000 of the ten,000-or-so folks arrested in reference to the protests have been college students, in keeping with police.
Because the introduction of the nationwide safety legislation, at the very least six liberal teachers have been compelled from their college jobs, in keeping with a Reuters tally, whereas scholar unions have been disbanded or ousted from campuses and scholar leaders arrested. Beginning subsequent 12 months, universities will probably be required to boost China’s nationwide flag each day, in keeping with schooling secretary Yeung.
Critics say the clampdown is a part of a broader transfer to neutralise the pro-democracy motion in Hong Kong. Greater than 150 folks, together with many opposition politicians, have been arrested for endangering nationwide safety over the previous 16 months, whereas faculties, church buildings, libraries, booksellers and film-makers have all been topic to tighter scrutiny.
‘MS NAUGHTY’ AND ‘MR BREACH’
Hong Kong, a world monetary hub with a inhabitants of seven.5 million, has 4 universities within the high 100 of the Occasions Larger Training World College Rankings. Till lately it was considered one in all Asia’s freest educational arenas, largely a legacy of British colonial rule that led to 1997 when the town was handed again to China.
Hong Kong’s faculties and universities at the moment are being compelled to combine nationwide safety and patriotic themes into their instructing, bringing them nearer into line with schooling in mainland China.
4 of the town’s eight publicly funded universities – Baptist College, Hong Kong Polytechnic College (PolyU), Lingnan College and Training College of Hong Kong – have launched nationwide safety lectures, seminars or talks as a commencement requirement. Hong Kong Metropolitan College, which is self-funded, instructed Reuters it might quickly launch such a course however declined to specify when it might begin.
The programs define the nationwide safety legislation’s 66 articles, detailing how they could be breached, whereas stressing the necessity for better patriotism and nationwide Chinese language id, in keeping with course supplies from two Hong Kong universities seen by Reuters, and interviews with 5 college students.
The programs embody the historical past of Hong Kong and China, highlighting the subjugation of China by overseas powers previously, and reference the existence of nationwide safety legal guidelines in giant democratic international locations equivalent to america and Britain.
At Baptist College, the course took the type of a two-hour seminar by pro-Beijing lawyer Alex Fan, who beforehand labored at Hong Kong’s Division of Justice. Within the seminar, he warned college students of the sweeping powers of the safety legislation and the severity of punishments for breaking it, in keeping with a 200-page PowerPoint presentation seen by Reuters.
The presentation was adopted by a obligatory 20-question multiple-choice check, seen by Reuters, during which college students needed to establish safety legislation violations by characters with names equivalent to “Ms Naughty” and “Mr Breach”. A number of college students instructed Reuters they failed the check.
One query within the check described a scenario the place “Ms Naughty” asks members of a gaggle on messaging app Telegram to dam commuter trains to cease folks attending to work, with the intention of “compelling” the federal government to implement common suffrage for the town’s legislature.
That was a tactic adopted by pro-democracy protesters in 2019 to realize one in all their 5 key calls for, fiercely opposed by Beijing. 4 decisions have been provided: incitement to secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with overseas forces. Every of these are punishable by as much as life in jail below the nationwide safety legislation.
At PolyU, the location of violent clashes between college students and police in 2019, a 109-page PowerPoint presentation for its nationwide safety course seen by Reuters paraphrases the English liberal thinker John Locke: “The fitting to punish is crucial to the (social) contract and to morality”.
In a single part the presentation asks: “Is criticizing the federal government against the law below the nationwide safety legislation?”
The reply given is: “It relies upon. If the criticism includes any of the 4 main crimes below the nationwide safety legislation (secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with exterior forces), it could be counted as against the law”.
In response to Reuters’ questions in regards to the course, a consultant for PolyU stated the college “locations a powerful emphasis on whole-person improvement and worth schooling” and that the course was needed to assist college students “develop a transparent understanding of points regarding nationwide safety within the metropolis”.
College students’ response to the brand new course at Baptist College ranged from worry to approval.
“I am scared that my college assignments would possibly get me into bother,” stated one 19-year-old Hong Kong scholar who recognized herself solely as Mandy. “I am scared that the federal government will cost me with crimes I did not commit due to my coursework.”
The course was an try at “thoughts restructuring,” stated one other Hong Kong scholar, who recognized himself as Michael.
“If you will do one thing, you will do it,” stated a 3rd scholar, who recognized herself as Lulu. “It is ineffective. I will not develop into patriotic after a two-hour speak.”
Leo, an 18-year-old from mainland China, welcomed the course, saying that Western international locations had influenced the ideas of scholars in Hong Kong they usually lacked consciousness of nationwide safety.
“Mainland college students have been immersed in that schooling since we have been small,” he instructed Reuters. “Deep in our hearts, we now have a powerful sense of id in the direction of our nation, in contrast to these in Hong Kong.”
Reporting by Jessie Pang and Sara Cheng in Hong Kong; Modifying by James Pomfret, Invoice Rigby and Frances Kerry
Our Requirements: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.