Hong Kong protest leader fired from university teaching job

A professor and leading figure in Hong Kong’s political opposition has been fired from his university job following China’s passage of a sweeping new national security law.

Hong Kong University’s council voted to oust Benny Tai from his position as an associate law professor in an 18-2 vote on Tuesday, local media reported.

Tai has been out on bail since being sentenced to 16 months in prison in April 2019 as one of nine leaders put on trial for their part in a 2014 drive for universal suffrage known as the Umbrella Movement.

While the movement failed in its bid to expand democracy in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, protests returned last year following the local government’s proposal of legislation that would have seen criminal suspects extradited to face trial in mainland China.

Opponents called that a violation of Hong Kong’s independent legal system it was guaranteed after being handed over from British to Chinese rule in 1997. Although the legislation was eventually shelved, the protesters’ demands expanded to include calls for democratic changes and an investigation into alleged police abuses, growing increasingly violent over the second half of the year.

That prompted Beijing to pass the national security law, saying opposition made such a move impossible at the local level in Hong Kong. Critics have decried the law as part of a major crackdown on political activity, free speech and academic independence that has prompted a prominent opposition group to disband.

Some books have been removed from libraries over concerns they violated the legislation’s restrictions on calls for greater autonomy for the city of 7.5 million.

In a statement issued after the vote to remove Tai, the Chinese central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong said it marked “a punishment for evil doing and the upholding of justice.”

Tai’s removal “upholds the overall interests of Hong Kong, meets public expectations and safeguards social justice,” the statement said.

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