Campus march by Hong Kong graduates marks a year since university clashes

Students of Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) hold up the names of the 12 detained in mainland China, in Hong Kong
Students of Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) hold up the names of the 12 detained in mainland China, in Hong Kong, China November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Sharon Tam

November 19, 2020

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Dozens of Hong Kong students turned their graduation ceremony on Thursday into a march to commemorate pro-democracy protests last year that included violent clashes with police across city campuses.

Wearing black graduation robes and Guy Fawkes masks, the students marched through the campus of Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). They said they were organising their own graduation after the university said it would be held online because of the risk of the novel coronavirus.

“I want to pass on the spirit … so the next generation of students don’t forget what happened last year,” said Philip, a social sciences graduate who declined to give his last name.

In November last year, campuses of CUHK and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) saw prolonged clashes between students and riot police, with protesters firing petrol bombs from catapults and using bows and arrows and police responding with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets.

The PolyU campus was surrounded by police for more than a week, with some students staging dramatic escapes through sewers rather than hand themselves in to police.

On Thursday, the students held black balloons and a banner reading “Happy graduation, CU rioters”. They chanted pro-democracy slogans and brandished the three-finger “Hunger Games” salute, in a nod to the gesture of defiance adopted by anti-government protests in Thailand.

Some of the graduates reconstructed a battle scene, posing for pictures as they waved flags and showed how they had used umbrellas as shields.

Protests in Hong Kong snowballed in June 2019 after years of resentment over what many residents see as meddling by the Chinese government in freedoms promised to Hong Kong when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The novel coronavirus, and a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing this year in response to the protests, have largely stifled the demonstrations.

(Reporting by Jessie Pang and Sharon Tam; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Robert Birsel)