Oxford University Moves to Protect Students From Hong Kong Security Law

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Oxford University students are being asked to submit China-related work anonymously for fear of political retaliation under a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong from July 1 that applies anywhere in the world, a British newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Students will be anonymous in class, while group tutorials will be replaced with one-to-one tutor meetings, the Guardian newspaper reported. The move is apparently aimed at preventing informants from relaying information about Oxford students’ work or opinions to the Chinese authorities.

“Students are also to be warned it will be viewed as a disciplinary offence if they tape classes or share them with outside groups,” the paper reported.

The move comes amid growing concerns that the Chinese Communist Party is using its influence and network of informants overseas to set limits on what it deems acceptable speech far beyond its borders.

Those concerns were heightened after the National Security Law for Hong Kong proclaimed that anyone, anywhere in the world, could be prosecuted under the law for words or deeds defined by Beijing as separatist or subversive, or deemed to show terrorist intent or “collusion with foreign powers.”

The vaguely worded law threatens anyone criticizing the Chinese or Hong Kong authorities anywhere in the world, prompting Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to end their extradition arrangements with Hong Kong.

The move at Oxford comes after a number of U.S. institutions made similar arrangements in the wake of the new law, and after rights groups warned that overseas colleges and universities still lack a coherent strategy for protecting their students from the Chinese state.

In March 2020, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that many colleges and universities around the world with ties to the Chinese government, or with large student populations from China, were unprepared to address threats to academic freedom.

“Few have moved to protect academic freedom against longstanding problems, such as visa bans on scholars working on China or surveillance and self-censorship on their campuses,” HRW said.

“Chinese authorities have long monitored and conducted surveillance on students and academics from China and those studying China on campuses around the world,” it said.

National Day protests

Back in Hong Kong, police said they had arrested three people for “inciting others to stage illegal protests” on China’s Oct. 1 National Day.

Two 19-year-old students and a 30-year-old transport sector worker were arrested after they allegedly posted “incitement messages” online, which included calls for attacks on police officers, Benjamin Tai, chief inspector in the Technology Crime Division, told a news briefing.

Police have refused to grant permission for a planned Oct. 1 rally by the Civil Human Rights Front calling for the release of 12 Hong Kong activists held in the mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen after they tried to flee to democratic Taiwan by speedboat.

Beijing’s Central Liaison Office in the city warned on Tuesday that anyone calling for National Day protests would be “blatantly flouting” the national security law.

Meanwhile, the city’s opposition politicians appeared to be wavering over whether to continue to serve on the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo) after elections slated for early September were postponed by the city’s chief executive Carrie Lam.

Twenty-one pro-democracy lawmakers have said they will remain in their seats, including Ray Chan, Eddie Chu and Tanya Chan, who announced her resignation on Tuesday for personal reasons.

However, a poll gauging support in the pro-democracy camp for staying or leaving showed a 50-50 split, with some arguing more could be done from outside the legislature in the current climate.

Andrew Shum, co-founder of the Civil Rights Observer and head of the city’s Professional Teachers’ Union, said many people in Hong Kong are still ready to take to the streets to protest the loss of their freedoms, in spite of the new law, which has seen the stationing of China’s feared state security police in the city.

“It was clear from the first day that the National Security Law took effect on July 1 that many people were still taking to the streets to express their views … even when they knew that put them at high risk of being arrested,” Shum told RFA in an interview marking the sixth anniversary of the 2014 Occupy Central movement.

“Hong Kong people’s desire for democracy hasn’t changed; you could say those beliefs have even gotten stronger,” he said. “But the crackdown by the authorities and police abuses of power have gotten more serious at the same time.”

Reported by Man Hoi-tsan, Pan Jiaqing and Fok Leung-kiu for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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