Benny Tai sacked

Top News | Maisy Mok and Carine Chow 29 Jul 2020

Benny Tai Yiu-ting, the co-founder of the 2014 Occupy Central movement, was sacked last night from his position as associate law professor at the University of Hong Kong for misconduct over criminal offenses related to the movement.

The governing HKU Council - chaired by Arthur Li Kwok-cheung - voted to terminate Tai, with 18 votes to sack him and two votes supporting his continued employment, after a three-hour meeting.

"The decision to terminate my appointment was made not by the University of Hong Kong but by an authority beyond the university through its agents," Tai wrote on Facebook to make public his termination. Tai, 56, said he was heartbroken by the demise of HKU and the council's decision marks the end of academic freedom in Hong Kong.

He added academic staff in Hong Kong educational institutions are no longer free to make controversial statements.

"If there is still any doubt of the advancement of one country, one system in the territory, my case should be able to remove it," Tai wrote.

He will continue his research and teaching on the rule of law in another capacity and continue to fight for Hong Kong's rule of law.

Tai was handed a 16-month prison sentence on April 9 last year after being convicted of conspiracy to cause public nuisance and inciting others to cause public nuisance relating to the Umbrella Movement.

He was allowed bail pending an appeal in August last year.

HKU set up a committee of inquiry in June last year, under the university senate, to investigate whether it should evaluate suspending Tai's teaching position or terminate his appointment.

The senate ruled that Tai's actions did not justify dismissal of his tenure after two meetings in May and early this month.

Under the HKU's ordinance, the council is allowed to terminate a teacher's appointment only after seeking advice from the university senate, but it also can overrule the senate's decision.

Lei Tsz Shing, full-time undergraduate student representative at the council, said yesterday that he is angry and disappointed at the council's decision.

"Our senate has made their decision, and yet the council and university's opinion differ from the senate. I think that is disrespectful to institutional autonomy," Lei said.

He said the council might review its decision when Tai's court appeal next March is completed.

HKU president Zhang Xiang did not vote in the meeting, Lei said.

"I think the council made this decision out of political concerns," said the president of HKU's student union, Jeh Tsz-lam.

He said the composition of the governing council has led to a one-sided conclusion to terminate Tai, as its chairman and several council members are appointed by its chancellor, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

The council consists of 22 members, including five members appointed by Lam and six members appointed by the council.

The 11 members and Li have been seen as "pro-establishment," according to sources, as another pro-democracy law scholar, Johannes Chan Man-mun, was rejected as the pro-vice-chancellor in 2015 with 12 votes against his appointment.

A member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, Peter Wong King-keung, is one of the six members appointed by the council who have criticized Tai for promoting Hong Kong independence and secession when Tai attended a Taiwan forum in 2018 to discuss a democratic society.

Under the University of Hong Kong Ordinance, Tai could file an appeal to the chancellor to overturn the council's decision.

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