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Hong Kong protests: Class boycott hits schools on first day of term

HONG KONG — Defiant school students across Hong Kong cut classes on Monday morning (Sept 2), using the first day of term to add their voices to anti-government anger which has fuelled months of unrest in the city.

Students take part in the class boycott at Ying Wa College in Sham Shui Po.

Students take part in the class boycott at Ying Wa College in Sham Shui Po.

HONG KONG — Defiant school students across Hong Kong cut classes on Monday morning (Sept 2), using the first day of term to add their voices to anti-government anger which has fuelled months of unrest in the city.

Thousands of them were expected to head to the city centre for a rally against the now-shelved extradition bill.

Strike-affected schools included the alma maters of the city’s embattled leader and the chief of its beleaguered police force.

The school boycott, co-organised by localist party Demosisto, was part of a broader anti-government campaign triggered by the bill, which would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong lacks an extradition deal, including mainland China.

It follows another weekend of violence in the city, with protesters going on the rampage outside the airport and trashing Tung Chung MTR station on Sunday. On Saturday, an illegal march on Hong Kong Island descended into pitched battles with riot police who used tear gas and water cannons.

Organisers had estimated as many as 10,000 secondary students from close to 200 schools would boycott classes, with half of them expected to show up at the rally in Edinburgh Place. The rally had been expected to start at 10.30am, but was postponed by two hours because of bad weather.

On Chai Wan Road, to the east of the island, pupils and alumni from three nearby secondary schools – from Shau Kei Wan Government School, Shau Kei Wan East Government School, and Salesian English School – formed a human chain on the 650-metre slope leading up to the Eastern Highway.

Most wore black T-shirts over their uniforms, while some students volunteered to distribute food for those who had not had breakfast.

“We hope more students can be aware of the seriousness of the extradition bill,” said Yannis Ho Tsz-yan, a Form Six student and a member of the extradition bill concern group at Shau Kei Wan East.

The school did not ask students to get their parents’ approval for the activity. However, it wanted a list of those taking part so it could provide a place for them to get changed afterwards.

Heiley Leung Hei-yee, a Form Three student at Shau Kei Wan who did not join the human chain, said: “I support what the students are fighting for, but I’m scared that the school will penalise me afterwards.”

She did not plan to take part in the class boycott on campus later.

One of the organisers, a Form Four student at Shau Kei Wan who would only give his name as Richard, estimated there were some 500 pupils taking part in the chain. But he still sounded a note of pessimism.

“Personally, I’m not too optimistic about the future of this extradition bill movement, because what we’re really up against is the central government,” he said.

Toby Chan Yin-tung, a Form Six student at Shau Kei Wan East, was similarly not very hopeful, but added: “We won’t lose faith or else we’ll lose this battle.”

Shau Kei Wan East principal Tony Lai Ping-fai and Shau Kei Wan vice-principal Yip Wing-cheong both declined to comment as they arrived at their respective schools on Monday.

At St Francis’ Canossian College, the Wan Chai alma mater of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, six students donning yellow helmets, goggles and masks knelt in front of the entrance and held placards bearing anti-government messages. They said they hoped Mrs Lam would listen to their voices and agree to the protesters’ key demands, including the full withdrawal of the extradition bill.

Elsewhere, some 50 students at Ying Wa College in Sham Shui Po, the oldest secondary school in Hong Kong, staged a rally outside the school gates, putting up posters with anti-government messages.

Leading chants of “Liberate Hong Kong; Revolution of our times”, Bowie Tang, a Form Six student and convenor of the school’s extradition bill concern group, said a full walkout from classes would begin on Tuesday.

He estimated 30 students would boycott Monday’s opening ceremony and sit at the basketball court.

“The school only approved our planned class boycott tomorrow at our school hall,” he said. “But I am willing to take any disciplinary consequences since I am already taking little risks by not standing at the front line out on the streets today.”

Mr Lo Hau-man, the parent of a Form Six student at the school and an alumnus himself, said he was there to support his son.

“He is old enough to decide for himself whether to skip classes, and he can self-study so I am not worried about it affecting his preparations for the public exam this year,” he said.

Mr Allan Cheng Kwun-kit, the college principal, said the school would provide an assembly hall for student strikers on Tuesday, but had yet to decide arrangements for next week if students followed calls to skip classes every Monday.

“Our school takes a neutral and open stance on the class boycott, but urges mutual respect for students holding opposing beliefs,” Mr Cheng said.

Riot police were seen at La Salle College, where the force’s commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung went to school.

About 50 students arrived earlier than usual to take part in a peaceful sit-in in the school’s chapel, while a group of alumni in black tops and masks distributed leaflets at the entrance.

The seven officers arrived at 9.17am, saying they received complaints from residents in the neighbourhood. One former pupil had his bag searched and was asked for ID.

Road traffic was largely normal despite protesters’ threat of blocking major thoroughfares such as the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, the Western Harbour Tunnel and Lion Rock Tunnel.

Their demands include a formal declaration of the bill’s withdrawal and an independent inquiry into police handling of the protests.

Education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung has stressed the authorities are opposed to any class boycott and would closely monitor the situation. He also said the authorities would call head teachers to see if there were any anomalies and would leave it to the schools to decide if punishment was needed.

Mr Eddy Tang Chun-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said most schools would follow government guidelines – for pupils applying for a leave of absence with a parent’s letter it would be considered an absence from class.

Meanwhile, the police force has been handing out portable alarms to the children of officers amid online threats including hate speech and calls for attacks against them.

Police management has also asked officers to report incidents of school bullying of their children to the force’s staff relations branch, which will refer the cases to Yeung’s bureau.

Since the protests began in June, police had received more than 1,600 complaints from officers and family members after personal information – such as names, home addresses, pictures, phone numbers and names of school – was posted online.

The pupils’ boycott coincides with a similar action planned by university students from 10 tertiary institutions. The tertiary students were being called on to converge on Chinese University on Monday afternoon to stage a mass sit-in.

But the university has urged its student union to cancel the rally “to safeguard the safety” of staff and attendees, according to the institution.

It said hosting a rally on campus posed a high risk after the weekend’s violence.

YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College, a secondary school in Tung Chung, meanwhile, postponed the start of term until Tuesday because of “considerable uncertainty resulting from the current situation in Tung Chung” and the likelihood of traffic disruption.

Chinese University released a statement early on Monday morning, in which it said it had appealed to the student union to cancel its rally. SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST  

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