The University of Hong Kong has decided not to track down students who hung pro-independence banners up on campus on China’s National Day.
Vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson said that the banners had been taken down because they had not been approved by the proper processes, but also said the university supported “freedom of speech” and would not pursue those responsible, the South China Morning Post reported.
Banners appeared on eight campuses on 1 October – when China commemorates the founding of the People’s Republic by the Communist Party in 1949 – amid fears of Beijing’s increasing power in the former British colony.
Hong Kong is formally part of China, but is supposed to enjoy relative self-governance under the “one country, two systems” settlement, which many believe is now under threat.
The Hong Kong National Party, which is pro-independence, said that it had provided the banners to students who pinned them up, according to the SCMP.
In August, Professor Mathieson issued a statement that independence was not a “realistic option” and “would not be in the best interests of the university”.
The vice-chancellor, a British academic who was formerly dean of medicine and dentistry at the University of Bristol, took over the position in April 2014, and has led the university through some of the most tumultuous times in its history – including the student-led so-called Umbrella Movement protests against Beijing’s influence later that year.
Pro-democracy academics say they have been subject to public attack by pro-Beijing newspapers, and claim academic freedom in the city is under threat.
Professor Mathieson also revealed last year that his email account had been hacked multiple times – but said he did not know who was responsible.