Students protest at AGM to raise awareness of violence in Hong Kong

"Liberate Hong Kong": Students silently protested at the AGM to raise awareness of the ongoing violence in Hong Kong. Source: Tim Marsh

By Olly Davies

At the AGM on Thursday November 21, students from Cardiff University held a silent protest to raise awareness for the current situation in Hong Kong. The students wore all black to mourn the perceived death of democracy in Hong Kong. They also adorned themselves with face masks and one student also wore a yellow helmet with the slogan “Free Hong Kong” printed across the top.

One of the students who was part of the protest, Michael Li, a Cardiff University student from Hong Kong, spoke to Gair Rhydd prior to the AGM. He felt that the University and the Students’ Union have not been doing enough to raise awareness and support the efforts of protesters in Hong Kong. 

In response to this allegation, Jackie Yip said: “The Students’ Union will absolutely support students to speak on issues they are passionate about.” However, Cardiff University declined to comment.

The protests in Hong Kong were triggered by an extradition bill which would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. Those who opposed the bill felt that it could undermine the independence of the judiciary and also place dissidents at risk. There were also fears the bill would allow China to gain further influence over Hong Kong. 

Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, however, it is currently under a “one country arrangement” where Hong Kong has more autonomy and its citizens more rights than the mainland. 

The bill was suspended in September after hundreds of thousands took to the streets in protest. Yet, there are calls for the bill to be withdrawn completely. 

Over the course of the protests, clashes with the police have become more common. On October 1, China celebrated 70 years of communist rule and Hong Kong experienced one of its most  “violent and chaotic days”. 

Over the last month, the government has banned protesters from wearing face masks in an effort to deter dissidents. 

The protests have now spread to university campuses in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) currently has 200 anti-government protesters barricaded inside. At the time of writing, they have been surrounded by police for three days and are said to be running low on supplies. The protesters entered the university campus the week before last and to begin with kept the police at a distance by lighting fire and throwing petrol bombs. Now, adults who leave campus face arrest, leaving some too scared to come out. 

Gair Rhydd spoke to Michael, a student from Hong Kong who is trying to spread the message of the revolution. Michael has been carrying out silent protests in his lectures; wearing the yellow hat and facemask he wore to last week’s AGM.

Michael has also spoken to Jackie Yip, President of Cardiff University Student’s Union, about raising awareness of the events in Hong Kong at the University. 

He has alleged that Jackie Yip has refused to do anything because of fears of upsetting Chinese students and colleagues. He also alleged that Yip feared she would face criticism from the Chinese Society if she were to allow protests on campus. Gair Rhydd has reached out to the Students’ Union for a comment on this, and Yip responded saying: “I and a number of others at the Students’ Union have met and reached out to Michael to outline ways he and others can talk about the violence in Hong Kong. At present, we are working to identify ways to support them and achieve their aims whilst being mindful of the conflict and potential impact on the student community.”

One policy Michael is hoping to see the Students’ Union implement is to create Lennon Walls. Lennon Walls are a place to share political views and solidarity by using post-it notes and murals; he told Gair Rhydd that he submitted an ‘idea’ on the Ideas Platform to have Lennon Walls installed in the Union building.

However, according to Michael, the Union fears the wall will not be used to “use our voices in a peaceful way” and instead fear it may become a cite of vandalism and graffiti.

At Thursday night’s AGM Michael addressed Jackie directly. He asked her if the Union was going to talk about the Hong Kong revolution, feeling it is not just a political issue, but also humanity and human rights issue. Michael declared, “in this country we have democracy and I hope the SU can allow Hong Kong students to talk about this.” 

Michael’s speech was met with applause in a gesture of solidarity with him. Jackie Yip thanked him for his contribution and she offered to speak to him in person at a later date. 

Moreover, Michael reported that he and other students have tried to revive the Students for Liberty society, but said that because all the founders were students from Hong Kong, the Students’ Union told him he could not restart the society as there already exists a Hong Kong Society. In response to these allegations, Jackie Yip commented: “No application has been received for a Students for Liberty society to date, but we would be happy to consider any application for this society to be established.

“It is true that with any protest that could have a potential negative impact on some segments of the student body, the Union will work with the proposers to ensure freedom of speech can prevail in line with supporting those that may feel affected by the actions…it is not about stopping any debate on campus.

“I’d like to send solidarity to all caught up in the violence.”

Ultimately, Michael and his fellow protestors in Cardiff just “want the government to hear our voice” but feel that university students are not willing to stand up and speak about the revolution because the University is a place to study, but Michael questions, “Shouldn’t we study this revolution? It’s about humanity; it’s about democracy.”

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