|Chan Wai-keung, a lecturer at Hong Kong Community College, was surrounded by student protesters on Tuesday following anti-protest remarks. Facebook|
By Chan Ho-him
The school's management confirmed the move to replace Chan Wai-keung on Wednesday during a dialogue session with students at its West Kowloon campus in Yau Ma Tei. Simon Leung Tak-wing, the director of postsecondary school, told students that Chan's teaching duties would be immediately taken over by another instructor.
But Chan, a lecturer at the school for 14 years and a newspaper columnist, remained defiant on Wednesday, saying he would not be silenced. He declined, however, to comment on being replaced by Hong Kong Community College, which is a self-financed extension of Polytechnic University.
The dispute started last Saturday when Chan's remarks were quoted in the Oriental Daily News. He told the Chinese-language newspaper that the punishment for breaking the government's new anti-mask law ― of up to one year in prison and a maximum HK$25,000 (US$3,187) fine ― was "not enough". He also said the city courts should "give heavy sentences to violent protesters".
Students were enraged by his comments and issued a call on LIHKG for a demonstration at Chan's classroom. More than 100 showed up on Tuesday and surrounded Chan during his two-hour lecture on Chinese and Western Cultures.
Online videos showed students chanting slogans and shouting profanities at Chan, while others aimed laser pointers at him. Chan was besieged for hours despite repeatedly saying he wanted to leave, according to the video.
|Hong Kong Community College in Yau Ma Tei is run by Polytechnic University. Photo from South China Morning Post|
Some students have called for Chan to be fired, but Leung said a lecturer would only be sacked over a serious offence.
Leung said the school would look into whether Chan's comments had violated any rules but did not say whether a formal investigation would be launched.
"One of the guidelines is that teaching staff should remain politically neutral," he said. "If [Chan's] comments have breached the guidelines, we would look into corresponding actions, whether giving him advice or a reminder, or ultimately termination of employment."
In a written statement on Wednesday, the college said Chan had been asked to perform non-teaching duties after Tuesday's incident but stressed that he was not suspended.
The statement said the school had "always valued the freedom of speech under mutual respect, objectivity and rationality".
Chan gave the Post a first-hand account of the events of Tuesday.
"I had been aware of some online calls to come to my classes to harass me since the weekend because some people were unhappy that I had been critical of the anti-government protesters," he said.
"When I stepped into the classroom, some 50 to 60 people were already there, many of whom were not my students. They wore masks, too."
Chan said he was pelted with verbal abuse and calls for a public apology for his critical stance against the protesters. When he refused, a tense stand-off followed and he was prevented from leaving his classroom. He said some of his students were so scared they ran away during the stand-off.
"Everyone is entitled to his or her views," he said. "They can disagree with me, but it is wrong to try to threaten others over views you dislike. I will continue writing my column."
Dr Chung Kim-wah, a PolyU lecturer and also a political commentator, criticised the students for their actions.
Chuing said: "I can understand that the society is much divided now. Students can disagree with their lecturer, but it is wrong to shout verbal abuse at a lecturer or harass him."
A 19-year-old student who identified herself as Chan said she felt Wednesday's dialogue session was meaningless because Chan was not there.
"[I joined] this dialogue hoping to have a direct conversation with [Chan] to call him to account for his comments," she said.
Another student surnamed Lam, 19, said she was "disappointed" at Chan and accused him of trying to avoid facing the students directly.