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A Hong Kong university has tightened campus access by refusing entry to most visitors, ahead of the anniversary of a 13-day siege last year which turned its campus into a battleground between radical anti-government protesters and police.
Polytechnic University on Friday adopted a raft of measures to strengthen campus security, including installing turnstiles at all entrances and requiring visitors to register via students or staff before their visits.
On November 17 last year, radical protesters on the campus engaged in violent confrontation with police, hurling petrol bombs at officers, who in turn used tear gas to disperse the violent mob. The force later declared the unrest a riot and laid siege to the campus for a fortnight.
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The scenes from the university during the two weeks last year were among the most violent portrayals of the city’s social unrest.
The varsity in Hung Hom and Chinese University (CUHK) in Sha Tin suffered the most damage as violent protesters occupied several campuses across the city.
Sources told the Post that PolyU management had recently decided to further tighten access control, restricting access only to staff, students and pre-authorised persons in charge of essential duties on its campus between November 6 and 30.
Most visitors would not be allowed on the campus except those with special approval from department heads or their delegates “based on solid evidence for the essentiality of campus access”, a letter sent to staff by the university read.
Parents searching for children among PolyU protesters get caught in police lockdown
The development came as the heads of two Hong Kong universities seeking to expand were pressed by pro-establishment lawmakers on Friday over security and safety on campus, following the social unrest.
Members of the education panel were discussing campus development plans for CUHK and the University of Hong Kong (HKU), with vice-presidents Eric Ng Shu-pui and Alfonso Ngan Hing-wan, when lawmakers raised the issue almost one year after at least six university campuses in the city were occupied by protesters.
CUHK in Sha Tin wants to build a HK$1.4 billion research laboratory building, whereas HKU wants to construct a HK$1.1 billion research laboratory building and information technology building on its main campus in Pok Fu Lam.
At CUHK, protesters threw objects from a bridge on campus onto the road and railway tracks beneath to block traffic, sparking a five-day occupation from November 11 last year, which saw a series of violent clashes between radicals and police.
Although university campuses were open to the public before the protests, most institutions have strengthened security measures since, with some installing gates, and others requiring those who enter the campus to register.
Most of the lawmakers who spoke during the meeting said they supported the proposed construction plans, but some raised concerns over campus security and safety.
“I felt heartbroken seeing scenes (of occupation) … including the MTR station at Chinese University being severely vandalised,” said Eunice Yung Hoi-yan, of the New People’s Party.
“A university should be able to protect its students and citizens, how could the campuses be damaged in such a serious manner?”
Chinese University threatens to cancel event marking campus occupation
Alice Mak Mei-kuen, of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, questioned the university heads about security in the future.
“Last year, several university campuses were vandalised, including Polytechnic University’s laboratory seeing (materials) being stolen,” Mak said. “Although university campuses should not be entirely (closed to the public) … how can you ensure the security of facilities and the safety of students, staff and alumni?”
Ng, CUHK vice-president of administration, said they were “deeply concerned” about campus security after last year’s incident, adding security had already been strengthened.
“We still hope that the campus can be opened to others apart from only members of the university,” he said. “Those who enter the university have to have their identities checked, as well as inform us about their reasons for entering.”
He added the university had also sought help from a consultant to offer advice on strengthening overall safety, including in terms of security personnel arrangements.
Opposition lawmakers also backed the building plans, including Roy Kwong Chun-yu from the Democratic Party, who urged the government to ensure construction remained on track.
Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, of the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong, and chairwoman of the panel, expressed concern about character education among university students, and said it was imperative that students’ moral quality should be raised.
Ng said the university had been reviewing its curriculum, and moral education would be strengthened over the coming few years.
With no objections from lawmakers on the education panel, the building plans will move on to be discussed by the Public Works Committee.
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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
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