18 October 2019

CUHK Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Rocky S. Tuan's Open Letter



Dear Students, Colleagues and Alumni,

My heart is heavy and unsettled as I pen this personal letter. The chaotic scenes from the media images of my meeting a week ago (10 October) with CUHK students and alumni must have shocked many.  My team and I, and every student and alumni member present at the meeting, felt the tensions and heightened emotions first-hand.  In fact, the proceedings had gotten so out of control that a meaningful dialogue became totally impossible.  At the end of the large, chaotic meeting, I had a further two-plus-hour of closed-door conversation with a smaller gathering of students, including some who were arrested for alleged offences related to the recent social unrest.  We all managed to put aside our differences, and carried on an open dialogue.  I was able to see personally and up close the pain and suffering of the students, how they were driven to a state of hopelessness, and why they had turned to the University for help.  I directly related to these students of CUHK my honest feelings and my thoughts.  I fully recognized that in the face of such unprecedented challenges to our community, the University might not have done enough for our students, even though we owe our responsibilities to many different stakeholders.  During these emotional two-plus hours, I heard loud and clear every word uttered by our students, which brought me no small share of sadness and regret.

Some of the students related their personal experiences while in police custody, and implored the University to take up the responsibility of the search for truth and fairness, to see to it that justice is done.  Every student, regardless of his/her political stance, values or personal beliefs, and whether or not he/she might have done something wrong, is a family member of CUHK.  In teaching students to accept responsibility for their own action, the University shall also help them assert their rights.  Since the meeting last Thursday, I have received over 800 e-mails and written opinions from many different stakeholders.  I saw how the evening’s event had been interpreted, analyzed and evaluated by different media, and in various signed petitions from students, colleagues and alumni.  Out of this myriad of opinions one thing is clear: The University is expected to make best use of its status, standing, and influence to ensure a fair treatment of the related issues and the students affected.

Follow-up actions on the students arrested

Since last Friday, we have contacted each and everyone of the more than 30 students arrested to find out what they had gone through after their arrests and during detention.  Most of them said their requests for timely communicating with their lawyers or families were unsuccessful, and they could only make their first (and only) phone-call from a few hours to as long as 78 hours after their arrests.  In some cases the students were made to give police statement in the absence of a lawyer.  One of the students said that, even when his family had arrived at the police station where he was held, they could not see him.  He was not permitted a phone call or a meeting with his family in the same station during the 48 hours while he was detained.  Some students pointed out that they were not permitted to sleep or lie down to rest.  Some other students said they were not given the medication they needed, and a student with asthma had to wait for six hours to be treated.  According to another student who suffered a head injury, despite his request to go to the hospital, he was only sent to the accident and emergency ward after 18 hours in detention.  More seriously, more than one students said they were slapped in the face while giving a statement or during detention, and two students said they were forced to strip naked by a police officer of the same sex in the search room despite having been told of no such need for strip search.  The above are all serious allegations made by our students of CUHK. 

Among the cases that came to our attention, about 20 students said they had received one or more of the above unreasonable treatments in varying degrees of severity.  These are not isolated incidents but serious allegations from a human rights point of view.  They are all the more unacceptable if bodily harm was inflicted.  Upon hearing from the students themselves what physical and mental pains they had suffered, I felt sad and anguished.  I cannot over-emphasize that, irrespective of why our students were arrested, the police should ensure that the rights of the arrested must not be infringed upon during arrest and detention.  The public rightly expect from law enforcement agencies nothing less than the upholding of the highest standards and the practice of cautiousness and judiciousness by its personnel.  The police are also expected to ensure proper handling of the matter and keep the public informed after a thorough investigation.     

To responsibly deal with the above cases, the University had promptly elicited help from volunteer alumni lawyers, especially those with experience in gender equality and human rights issues.  We hope that with such legal assistance and consent of the students concerned, each case can be properly documented and submitted to the relevant authorities as a formal complaint and representation so as to facilitate prompt, fair and open investigations.  In fact, the University has contacted the Independent Police Complaint Council (IPCC) directly, which was very receptive to our request and promised to send observers to all the meetings between the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO) and the complainants and to conduct on-site evidence gathering in a fair and just manner.  I hereby call upon our students affected that you should exercise your rights.  My colleagues and I are willing to accompany you and your lawyers to file complaints at the relevant authorities so as to protect your legal rights and demand proper and judicious handling of your cases. 

I understand that many members of the University and the public share with us a deep concern for the case of one of our own students, Miss Ng.  We are in close contact with Miss Ng, offering our help.  We understand that she is under enormous pressure, and has disclosed at public appearances or interviews many facts and details of her experience.  I hereby urge the CAPO to take prompt action to investigate her case based on the publicly available evidence, preferably in conjunction with IPCC scrutiny.  Time is of the essence here.  I also strongly urge all to desist from doing any act of intimidation, harassment or obstructing any victim to seek help.

Regrettably, those students we have contacted so far are not yet willing to take the first step due to their anxiety towards the police or distrust of the CAPO and the IPCC.  While I feel frustrated by this state of affairs, I understand that the mistrust of existing mechanisms among students and the public does not begin today.  In view of the gravity of the matter, I will write to the Chief Executive to exhort her to initiate independent investigation of the 20 or so cases involving CUHK students outside existing mechanisms.  This will hopefully reaffirm the rule of law and restore public confidence.  As a matter of fact, demands for the government to establish an independent commission of inquiry to try to get to the root cause of police-civilian conflicts or related matters have grown louder and louder in the past few months.  The government must constructively address such demands, for only the truth can bring justice to all.

Protecting members of the University is a responsibility we cannot abdicate.  At the same time, when judiciousness is expected of us by members of the University as well as the general public, as Vice-Chancellor and President I must exercise prudence when the credibility of the University is capitalized, and must not jump to unsubstantiated conclusions. Otherwise, the campus is likely to be turned into a dispute-driven battlefield, and insult will be added to injury for those who have already been hurt by additional malicious attacks. Any proven case of improper use of force or violations of human rights by certain police officers must be condemned.

Safety measures on campus

At the meeting last week, concern over the unjustified presence of police discharging duties on campus was voiced time and again.  Within the property boundary of our University campus, we will do everything we can to safeguard the legal rights of all our members.  Upon the request of the police to enter our campus, the University Security Office will normally require them to give reasons for doing so, whether it is for executing court orders (such as a search or arrest warrant), conducting investigation with the consent of those involved in a crime, or if they are under reasonable suspicion that the perpetrator of a crime is present on the premises.  I hope the University community will appreciate that we are duty-bound to cooperate with law enforcement agencies in any criminal investigation.  But the University will first obtain from the police the relevant information such as the purpose and location of their investigation before granting them entry.  The University will also arrange our staff to accompany any concerned parties during the investigation or search by police on campus, and to notify the relevant units when it is lawful and reasonable to do so.  If needed, lawyers can be arranged to assist with the students and staff so as to safeguard their legal rights (24-hour legal assistance has been in place).

The University will strengthen the training and alertness of our frontline security personnel.  The University has also deployed more personnel to deal with the increased number of various types of incidents on campus.

Strengthening emergency responses

During my meeting with the students and alumni last week, I commented on the distress caused to members of the University due to the social unrest and its repercussions on campus life in the last few months.  In these difficult times, many members of the CUHK expect more support from the University.  I am grateful to students, colleagues and alumni for their dedicated efforts.  Our colleagues on the frontline have committed a great deal of their time and energy to engage the students, boost their morale, and prevent disputes and improper conduct. 

The crisis management group that I chair has been responsible for the formulation and implementation of policies and emergency measures.  In view of the rapidly changing circumstances and after hearing from the stakeholders, I have decided to take the work of the group one step further in order to ensure even more timely responses to emergencies with better coordination and decision-making.  The University will set up a cross-functional Rapid Response Task Force with subgroups in five areas of support.  These subgroups will have student and alumni representatives and report directly to me.  They are:

(1)   Cultural Inclusion Subgroup (culturalis@cuhk.edu.hk)
       Convenor: Prof. Dennis Ng, Pro-Vice-Chancellor
(2)   Academic Support Subgroup (academicss@cuhk.edu.hk)
       Convenor: Ms. Kitty Yu, Registrar
(3)   Campus Safety, Security and Legal Matters Subgroup (csslms@cuhk.edu.hk)
       Convenor: Mr. Eric Ng, Vice-President (Administration)
(4)   Student Support and Well-being Subgroup (ssws@cuhk.edu.hk)
       Convenor: Prof. Dennis Ng, Pro-Vice-Chancellor
(5)   Communications and Engagement Subgroup (caes@cuhk.edu.hk)
       Convenor: Mr. Eric Ng, Vice-President (Administration)

Let trust, hope and compassion be our guide

The troubling events in society and on campus in the past few months have been a tough, learning process for us all.  It is my belief and deep conviction that sincere, direct and honest dialogue will lead us out of the present impasse, but strong polarization will never bring compromise.  Reconciliation of the schism can only be approached and reached with sincerity and honesty.  The success of Hong Kong depends on the rule of law and Hong Kong people being united behind it.  The negative sentiments in society have reached an alarmingly critical point.  The escalating violence and acts of destruction must stop.  The government must act fast to come up with feasible strategies to solve the problems in order to rekindle hope for the younger generations who are the future of Hong Kong.

The University fully recognizes that we face a bumpy road ahead. Nevertheless, we will faithfully abide by our mission: to disseminate knowledge, serve the society, and cultivate virtue.  We will maintain the campus as a place where the search for truth can be freely pursued and where students are nurtured in the spirit of “Through learning and temperance to virtue”, the motto of the University passed down by our Founding Fathers.  To remain a haven for all, we must not lose sight of unity, openness, inclusivity, reason, and mutual respect, and be continually inspired by the virtues of trust, hope, and compassion.

I am a native son, born and raised in Hong Kong, my beloved home.  I grew up in a loving, hard-working family that lived under the Lion Rock, like hundreds of thousands of families in Hong Kong: we sweated and toiled, we worked and played, we learned and adapted, we constantly reinvented ourselves, and always believing in a better tomorrow.  Regardless of political persuasions, all of us in Hong Kong are in the same boat and have a whole lot more in common than being different.  I sincerely hope that truth will bring reconciliation.  I very earnestly look forward to the moment when the precious and beautiful spiritual wealth of Hong Kong will be rekindled with brightness and vigour.

Rocky S. Tuan
Vice-Chancellor and President
The Chinese University of Hong Kong