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Hong Kong immigration officials deny visa to human rights law lecturer

Ryan Thoreson says he wasn't given a reason for the decision, which comes amid a crackdown on free speech

By Poon Ka Ching and Han Qing


A member (C) of the University of Hong Kong student union speaks to the media before cleaning the 'Pillar of Shame', a monument that commemorates the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, at the University of Hong Kong. June 4, 2021.


Authorities in Hong Kong have refused a visa application for a U.S. legal scholar specializing in human rights law, amid an ongoing crackdown on public dissent and political opposition under a draconian national security law imposed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

"As some of you know, I accepted an offer last year to teach human rights law at the University of Hong Kong, and recently found out my visa was denied," Ryan Thoreson said via his Twitter account.

"I'm obviously disappointed by the decision, but grateful for the faculty's interest in my scholarship and teaching, and for the opportunity to work with some really wonderful students as I’ve been teaching remotely," he said, adding that he wasn't notified of the Hong Kong immigration department's decision until it was too late to apply for new jobs in the fall.

"I'm sad to announce I’m back on the law teaching market," Thoreson wrote.

He later told Agence France-Presse that the authorities hadn't given any reason for the decision.

Thoreson has taught at Yale University and is currently a gender equality researcher at the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW), which has been targeted for sanctions by Beijing.

HRW China director Sophie Richardson said the authorities appear to want to eliminate academic freedom in Hong Kong.

Dozens of rights groups including HRW signed a statement slamming the 2022 Winter Olympics in China as taking place amid "atrocity crimes and other grave human rights violations" by the CCP.

"It’s not possible for the Olympic Games to be a ‘force for good,’ as the International Olympic Committee claims, while the host government is committing grave crimes in violation of international law," Richardson was quoted as saying.

"Under President Xi Jinping, Chinese authorities have been committing mass abuses against Uyghurs, Tibetans, ethnic groups, and religious believers from all independent faith groups," the statement said. "They have eliminated independent civil society by persecuting human rights activists, feminists, lawyers, journalists, and others."

"The government has eviscerated a once-vibrant civil society in Hong Kong, expanded tech-enabled surveillance to significantly curtail the rights to expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and allowed the use of forced labor, in violation of international law," it added.

The denial of Thoreson's visa came after several Hong Kong universities removed public memorials and artworks commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and derecognized their student unions, evicting them from premises on campus.

The University of Hong Kong removed the "Pillar of Shame" sculpture from its campus, while authorities at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) took down a 6.4 meter bronze replica of the "Goddess of Democracy" figure used by students calling for democracy and the rule of law on Tiananmen Square in the spring and early summer of 1989.

Meanwhile, Lingnan University removed or painted over two public art works commemorating the victims of the massacre.

Students and alumni at CUHK responded by leaving mourning offerings of white flowers and candles where the statue once stood, playing a cover of the protest-related song "Bloodstained Glory" by Cantopop diva Anita Mui.

The removal of public memorials to the Tiananmen massacre comes amid a citywide crackdown on public dissent and political opposition under a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) fromJuly 1, 2020.

InJanuary 2022, four former members of the HKU Student Union council were charged with "promoting terrorism" under the national security law, in connection with its motion in support of a man who stabbed a police officer.

They have been charged with "advocating terrorism" under the national security law after the union passed a motion saying it "appreciate [the] sacrifice" of 50-year-old Leung Kin-fai, who stabbed himself to death after knifing a policeman outside the Sogo department store onJuly 1, 2021, the anniversary of the national security law.

Union council members made public apologies and resigned from their posts after the incident, but Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam insisted publicly that police investigate them under the national security law.

Officials have warned that anyone visibly mourning or sympathizing with Leung's death could be breaking the national security law, and are treating the incident as a terrorist attack.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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