Please note the signature campaign, titled “In Defence of Free Speech and Academic Freedom — Support Conscientious Scholar Professor Benny Tai” (捍衛言論及學術自由 支持良心學者戴耀廷) has been launched. A copy of the statement is provided herein for your easy reference. Please visit this link (https://sites.google.com/site
Please join and help spread this among your colleagues. This signature campaign targets at local and international academics only instead of students or administrative staff.
Scholars’ Alliance for Academic Freedom
(On behalf of the initiators)
In Defence of Free Speech and Academic Freedom Support Conscientious Scholar Professor Benny Tai
(Tertiary Education Sector’s Joint Statement)
Recently, Legislative Councillor Junius Ho openly expressed in social media that the remarks made by Law School associate professor Benny Tai, initiator of “Occupy Central with Peace and Love”, are “twisted and evil”. Councillor Ho also initiated a signature campaign and wrote to the Council Chairman of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), urging for Prof Tai to be dismissed. This has raised widespread public concern in Hong Kong. We are worried that Councillor Ho’s claims and actions may have exerted pressure on the University of Hong Kong or other tertiary institutes’ academics and administrative staff. We express our strong indignation over Councillor Ho’s claims and actions. We believe that Councillor Ho’s words and deeds are unfair and biased. We express our condemnation and two points in this statement as follows:
<b>(1) Academic freedom and freedom of speech are the cornerstones of a healthy society</b>
A healthy society must allow freedom of discussion, so that different views can be expressed with clarity and without fear. Only so can social progress be possible. This is why academic freedom and freedom of speech are the cornerstones of human progress. For this reason, Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." In addition, the American Association of University Professors states that the protection of their unfettered expression, including the ability to espouse highly controversial and unpopular views, is an essential social responsibility of universities and colleges. In the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom, it was stated that:
<p style="padding-left: 30px;"><i>"Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good… [which] depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition… as we have learned from such prior experiences as the dismissals of controversial professors and subsequent constraints on academic discourse during and after the two world wars. These events teach us that political restrictions on academic expression must not be countenanced."</i></p>
We believe that Councillor Ho’s demand for HKU to dismiss Prof Tai on the grounds of his “twisted and evil” remarks may have created enormous pressure for Prof Tai or other scholars whose views differ from that of those in power, so much so that he (they) cannot or would not express criticisms without fear. We believe that Councillor Ho’s speech and actions are detrimental to the development of Hong Kong as a civilized society.
<b>(2) “Rule of law” is more than obeying the law; its higher goal is human right and social justice</b>
One accusation of Councillor Ho is that although Prof Tai is an associate professor in Law, he nevertheless initiated “Occupy Central”, “took the lead to ask others to break the law” and “misled students into breaking the law”, which are the same as “violating the law in the name of the law”. Councillor Ho believes that these run counter to Prof Tai’s status as a teacher.
We must point out that Rule of Law is not simply about the existence and the obeying of the law. More importantly, the Rule of Law encompasses two other important dimensions; it needs to limit the powers of the state, to protect human rights and to achieve social justice. Lord Hoffmann, member of the UK’s Lord of Appeal of the Ordinary, pointed out in 2006 that using unlawful acts to challenge unjust laws and acts by the government, are acts of “civil disobedience” which have a long and distinguished history under common law. Lord Hoffmann stressed that acts of “civil disobedience” have specific characteristics, such as limiting movement and limiting inordinate damage and inconvenience.Throughout history, social movements that promoted human rights and human civilization are results of “unlawful” acts of “civil disobedience”. In the 1950s in Montgomery, USA, blacks not yielding their seats to whites would have violated the law. Martin Luther King “took the lead” and started the bus boycott movement, which eventually forced the government to abolish its racial discrimination policy. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela challenged laws that discriminated on the basis of race, created international and mass pressure which eventually abolished the policy of racial segregation and brought about real universal suffrage to the country. These examples show that unlawful acts of civil disobedience can protect human rights and promote social justice. Also, universal suffrage is a universal human right acknowledged by over a hundred member states of the United Nations. Much research has shown that genuine universal suffrage can reduce corruption, improve civil liberties, political stability, gender equality and quality of governance. Without true universal suffrage, the prosperity, stability, freedom and future prospects of Hong Kong are deeply worrying.Prof Tai proposed Occupy Central with the aim to make Beijing fulfill the promise of real universal suffrage that has been stalled for years. In over a year leading up to Occupy Central, Prof Tai has proactively invited members from a wide range of sectors to participate in deliberation, and has explained numerous times to the public about the aims and legal consequences of participating in the movement. This shows that Prof Tai had no intention of misleading anyone.
Prof Tai has continued to stress the non-violent principles of “peace and love”, and aimed to minimize how the movement may affect the public. He also took legal responsibility by turning himself in to the police after the movement has ended. He has led by example in the fight for true universal suffrage for Hong Kong people through “civil disobedience”, and had personally paid a hefty price as a result. Prof Tai did all he could, as an intellectual, to safeguard basic values (such as freedom, democracy and political equality).
In his online signature campaign, Councillor Ho made no mention of the underlying principles and rationale of Occupy Central’s acts of “civil disobedience”. There was no mention of how the Beijing authorities have for over thirty years, since the Sino-British negotiations on the future of Hong Kong, resisted enacting true universal suffrage in Hong Kong. There was no mention of how the Central government has denied real universal suffrage through the August 31st announcement prior to the Umbrella Movement. Councillor Ho chose to only focus on the element of “obeying the law”, ignoring the more important principle of “using the law to achieve justice” in his mobilisation of the public. He put forth a figure for the number of on-line signatories that are difficult to be verified, urging for HKU to dismiss a selfless, righteous and conscientious professor who has worked incessantly for the future of Hong Kong. Recently, Junius Ho has gone even further, requesting that HKU respond to his demands in a week, or else he may take legal action against the university and organise mass rallies in protest. We believe that Councillor Ho’s words and deeds may obstruct the efforts at reform of conscientious scholars. At the same time, pro-government media such as the Wen Wei Po and Tai Kung Po used substantial coverage to attack Benny Tai. Pro-establishment online media such as Speakout.HK and Silent Majority also echoed in unison, as if manufacturing white terror, in an attempt to remove a voice of social conscience that dared to criticize the political regime. We believe that Councillor Ho’s suitability to continue as member of a university council is highly debatable.
We do not wish for any academic or indeed anyone to suffer from unreasonable suppression because their views differ from that of those in power. This should not occur in a free and civilized society. We express our strong condemnation of Councillor Ho’s words and deeds that urge HKU to dismiss Professor Tai.