Hong Kong university rejects rights lawyer Johannes Chan

Prof Johannes Chan addresses press conference in Hong Kong. 23 September 2006 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prof Johannes Chan is a prominent human rights advocate

The University of Hong Kong has decided not to appoint a human rights lawyer to one of its senior positions, amid claims of interference from China.

Johannes Chan was rejected even though he had been recommended as pro-vice chancellor by recruitment consultants.

He was associated with last year's pro-democracy protests that brought Hong Kong's streets to a standstill.

The BBC's Juliana Liu in Hong Kong says the move has sparked fears about academic freedom in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's mini-constitution guarantees it a high degree of autonomy from mainland China, including academic freedom and an independent judiciary.

But the university's governing council has many members perceived as being loyal to the Chinese government, our correspondent adds.

Prof Chan was a close colleague of Benny Tai, a fellow academic at the University of Hong Kong, who initiated last year's Occupy Central demonstrations.

The movement evolved into the pro-democracy protests last year that paralysed Hong Kong streets for more than two months.

Both men have been heavily criticised by media loyal to the government in Beijing.

Speaking before the vote, Prof Chan told Reuters news agency: "They are trying to send a message that if someone is sympathetic to Occupy Central... there will be repercussions."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pro-democracy protesters gathered outside government headquarters in Hong Kong on Monday to mark the first anniversary of Occupy Central

'Orchestrated' pressure

The university's governing council voted by 12 to eight to reject Prof Chan, the South China Morning Post reported.

Council chairman Edward Leong Che-hung described the decision as being in the "long-term interests" of the university, the report added.

The university - one of Asia's top academic institutions - is to restart the recruitment process.

Prof Chan was recommended for the post last year by a university committee headed by the university's president and a global recruiting firm.

But the governing council delayed the vote on his appointment for months.

Speaking ahead of Tuesday's vote, university vice-chancellor and president Peter Mathieson told Reuters he believed there had been "orchestrated" pressure on him and others who had backed Prof Chan's appointment.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to China in 1997 following a 1984 agreement.

China agreed to govern Hong Kong under the principle of "one country, two systems", where the city would enjoy "a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs" for 50 years.

As a result, Hong Kong has its own legal system, and rights including freedom of assembly and free speech are protected.

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