University chief who called for enquiry into Hong Kong student’s death to step down

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has said its president Wei Shyy, who called for an inquiry into the death of HKUST student Chow Tsz-lok during the 2019 protest movement, will step down next year.

In an announcement published the day after the anniversary of Chow’s death, the university said Shyy had notified it that he would resign with effect from Oct. 19, 2022, one year ahead of his five-year term.

“It is my privilege to call HKUST home during the past 11 plus years. On an excellent foundation laid by our founders and predecessors, and further strengthened by many members and supporters, HKUST’s academic standard, campus-wide openness, and institutional expectations continue to sustain and flourish,” the university quoted him as saying in its press release.

“The sense of duty to serve HKUST’s long-term interests and overall standing has guided our thinking and action during challenging times. In that spirit the University will continue to open new horizons.”

“The University will soon launch a global search for the appointment of its next president,” the statement said.

Shyy learned of Chow’s Nov. 8, 2019 death while presiding over a graduation ceremony, and paused proceedings for a period of silence, wiping away tears.

He later called for an independent inquiry into Chow’s death and its rumored links to police activity in the area, as well as demanding an explanation for police actions in preventing ambulances and rescue crews from getting to Chow for more than 30 minutes.

After the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) imposed a draconian national security law on Hong Kong from July 1, 2020, Shyy told reporters he had “no need” to support it, as it was already law, and would have to be obeyed.

The law ushered in a city-wide crackdown on public dissent and peaceful protest, including peaceful actions deemed “subversive” or otherwise undermining of the authorities, that has left dozens of opposition politicians, rights activists and journalists behind bars, and led to the shuttering of prominent unions, civil society organizations and the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper.

Three arrested for ‘voting offense’

Shyy’s announcement came as the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) arrested three people for sharing online messages calling on people to turn in blank ballots in December’s elections for the Legislative Council (LegCo), where new rules have effectively barred the former opposition camp from running.

Two men and one woman aged between 29 and 65 have been accused of violating the Election Ordinance, which criminalizes anyone encouraging others to boycott elections or spoil ballot papers on pain of up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of H.K.$200,000, government broadcaster RTHK reported.

Chow was a second-year computer science undergraduate student at HKUST who died of massive head injuries after falling from the upper floor of a parking garage in Tseung Kwan O on Nov. 4, 2019.

He was taken to hospital in a coma, and died four days later, further stoking public anger, as livestreamed footage showed police apparently refusing to allow an ambulance through a cordon to treat him, something that police later denied in a letter to HKUST president Wei Shyy.

Surveillance footage from the garage showed a man being chased and pushed by a larger man shortly before Chow fell, while healthcare workers drew attention to the fact that his injuries were concentrated around his head and pelvic bone, with no fractures in his limbs, which is common in cases of falls.

Police dismissed concerns as “rumors,” saying that Chow fell from the building shortly before 1:00 a.m., and that police had only entered the building five minutes later, finding him already having fallen.

But another video clip emerged that appeared to contradict this story, and police later admitted that they had sent a patrol earlier, which had left the building at around 11:20 p.m.

An inquest into Chow’s death by the Coroner’s Court returned an open verdict in January 2020.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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