HONG KONG: Students from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), wearing graduation gowns and masks, display slogans that authorities say are now illegal under a new security law, at a protest in memory of the pro-democracy demonstrations at CUHK a year ago during graduation festivities at the campus in the Shatin area of Hong Kong yesterday.-AFP

HONG KONG: Dozens of graduating Hong Kong students displayed slogans yesterday that authorities have declared illegal in a rare act of defiance against a sweeping new national security law imposed on the city by Beijing. The law was unveiled in June and outlawed certain political views, such as advocating for independence or greater autonomy from Beijing.

It has all but wiped out the mass democracy protests that rocked the city last year and has left swathes of the population too scared to speak out. Anti-coronavirus bans on more than four people gathering in public have also stifled protests and stopped official graduation ceremonies from being held.
But yesterday small groups of students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) donned face masks and chanted protest slogans for an unofficial graduation day.

Among the slogans chanted and displayed were "Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our times" and "Hong Kong independent, the only way out." Both phrases were a common feature of last year's rallies, but have since been declared illegal under the new national security law, which can carry up to life in prison. The students also sang "Glory to Hong Kong", a protest song that authorities have also outlawed.

'People need to regather'
In a statement, CUHK said graffiti was sprayed during the protest and reported to the police. CUHK's campus saw brief clashes a year ago between police and protesters and was decked for months in slogans and graffiti that has since been wiped away. A few days later, much more intense clashes broke out at Polytechnic University with police besieging hundreds of protesters, some of whom were armed with bow and arrows.

Students attending the rally said political oppression had increased over the last year but they felt determined to speak out despite the risks. "My biggest graduation wish is the Chinese Communist Party will fall from power soon," a 22-year-old student, who identified his surname as Wong, told AFP.

"To be honest, the movement is over now," said another student, who gave only a first name, Amanda. "People will need to regather the power and come back again". Beijing says its security law has restored stability and hit out at western criticism that the move ends the freedoms and autonomy Hong Kong was guaranteed ahead of its 1997 handover from Britain.

While yesterday's protest was small in number, it illustrates that many of the grievances which fuelled last year's unrest remain unaddressed. Meanwhile, Hong Kong police were wrong to hide identification badges during last year's democracy protests while the city's watchdog was "inadequate" for investigating complaints against officers, a senior judge said yesterday. The ruling is a blow to the city's pro-Beijing leaders who have defended the police's actions during the huge and often violent democracy protests and have dismissed calls to overhaul how officers are monitored.

Yesterday's ruling by Judge Anderson Chow in the High Court stemmed from a series of judicial review applications brought against police by multiple parties. During the months of clashes last year riot police often refused to wear ID badges making it all but impossible to identify officers involved in complaints. Lawyers for an Indonesian journalist who lost an eye to a police baton round, for example, have complained that they have been unable to identify the officer who fired the shot.

No police officer has been sacked over last year's protests while the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has exonerated the force of any major wrongdoing. But judge Chow said the police and government breached Article 3 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights by failing to show identity badges and provide an adequate complaints mechanism.

Article 3 provides that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. "Even in times of public emergencies, however serious, the rights under (Article 3) must still be respected by the government and protected by the courts," he wrote. Public anger towards the police rocketed during the protests and the police said many officers were harassed, often though "doxxing" attacks where personal details are leaked online. As criticism mounted over the identification badges, police brought in a call sign number system for officers-a move later backed by the IPCC watchdog. - Agencies