A tenured law professor and a leading figure in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement was fired from his university position Tuesday, less than a month after Beijing passed a new national security law in the semi-autonomous nation.
Benny Tai, an associate professor of law at Hong Kong University, was sacked in an 18-2 vote by the university’s governing council, according to the South China Morning Post.
The decision was a reversal of an earlier decision by the university senate, which said there were not enough grounds to warrant Tai’s dismissal, Reuters reported.
Tai, who was not present at the meeting, responded to his ousting on social media.
“It marks the end of academic freedom in Hong Kong,” Tai said on Facebook. “Academic institutions in Hong Kong cannot protect their members from internal and outside interferences.”
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.
Increasingly violent pro-democracy protests prompted China’s legislature to pass the national security law in June.
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.
China’s central government liaison officer in Hong Kong released a statement praising Tai’s removal. It said the firing marked “punishment for evil doing and the upholding of justice” and “upholds the overall interests of Hong Kong, meets public expectations and safeguards social justice.”
Tai remained optimistic in his Facebook post, writing that he planned to continue writing and lecturing on legal issues and asked for public support.
“If we continue in our persistence, we will definitely see the revival of the rule of law in Hong Kong one day,” Tai wrote.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.