Student Union Leaders at Chinese University of Hong Kong Resign Due to Pressure, Threats

March 4, 2021 Updated: March 4, 2021

The members of the newly elected student union cabinet of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), known as “Syzygia,” declared their resignation on the same day that they were sworn in due to mounting pressure from university authorities.

Last month, CUHK condemned the cabinet, Syzygia, for their “possibly unlawful remarks” to media and “political propaganda,” according to a statement.

On Mar. 1, Lam Yui-hei, president of Syzygia, and his cabinet members held a press conference in the campus, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA). Lam cited reasons for their collective resignation, including political pressure from CUHK management, who “repeatedly hinted” that Syzygia should withdraw from the election before Feb. 28, and that its members would likely be expelled from CUHK and face up to more than ten years of imprisonment on national security grounds.

In its election manifesto, Syzygia accused CUHK of “kowtowing to the regime.” It also vowed to fight the “unjust regime” and said that the national security law, which was implemented by Beijing in June 2020, encroached on the city’s basic human rights and freedom.

Lam also said at the press conference that several union members and their families claimed to have been harassed, intimidated, and received death threats.

“We had no way but to withdraw our documents,” the president explained. “We would like to take this opportunity to make an apology to all our supporters and the public as well, for our weakness that we cannot bear those safety threats that involve our families.”

On Feb. 24, the cabinet Syzygia won the election with 3,983 votes, indicating high approval among the students.

Just one day later, however, CUHK authorities informed the freshly elected group that they would stop collecting fees on behalf of the union and that the union needed to register as an independent body or company to assume legal responsibility for itself; and CUHK would stop providing venues for its activities and administrative support.

Ivan Choy, senior lecturer of CUHK’s Department of Government and Public Administration, described the tension between CUHK management and Syzygia as the worst crisis in the university’s history, and that the election had ceased to be a campus event, according to Hong Kong-based Now News.

Choy once served as president of a student organization while studying in CUHK.

With the exception of CUHK and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), no student union has been elected in other local colleges or universities under the national security law, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA).