UCL Amnesty stall on democracy in Hong Kong closed down due to security concerns
The stall was meant to run for two days
Last month, Democracy and the Right to Protest (with a focus on Hong Kong) was selected as UCL Amnesty International's campaign for Term Two.
Last week a stall was set up in the Student Centre to raise awareness of freedom of speech violations and collect signatures for petitions in support of the right to protest in Hong Kong.
The stall was intended to run on the 27th and 28th between 10am and 5pm. By 4:04pm on the 27th, those at the stall had been asked to pack away and were informed they would not be able to continue the stall on the 28th.
This was due to a counter protest group of Chinese students, who, through their right to freedom of speech, were voicing their concerns of the stall's activities.
The President of UCL Amnesty told The London Tab: "A group of Chinese students came, UCL Amnesty is unsure of whether they were an organised group. They started showing the Chinese flag in counter-protest to videos and started taking pictures of people at the stall and other mainland Chinese students who were not necessarily supporting our campaign but supporting the stall.
"This created a big crowd which we had not expected and the Security of the Student Centre was not equipped to deal with and thus they told us to take down our stall. If we had got in touch with the Student Union beforehand they would have provided additional security."
One student on the stall commented that they thought by holding the stall, they could inform and raise awareness. They said: "It was a shame that the stall had to be cut short…as a student of UCL, I always believe in the right of free speech."
Another UCL student added: "Most of the time we were able to have some very rational and meaningful dialogues about Hong Kong Human Rights issues… even with those holding opposing views. It's a shame that the event was disrupted by a small minority of people."
Amnesty International's focus is non-political, centred purely on human rights and the protection of them, the protesters expressing their concerns is an example of the importance of freedom of speech and freedom of opinion. Unfortunately, UCL Amnesty had not expected things to take such a dimension and there was not enough security to ensure that activities took place safely. Due to this the stall had to be shut down.
After talking to the numerous students who ran and organised the stall it is clear how much it meant to them, despite it being cut short. One student said: "It was an honour for me to contribute at the UCL Amnesty stall yesterday…I was delighted to receive support and encouragement from non-Hong Kongers, especially from university staff and individual Chinese students."
However, there was also a sense of frustration that the stall had to be shut down, particularly due to the lack of conversation between protesters and those running the stall. A UCL student told The London Tab: "Conversations with anti-protesters hardly took place, since they would argue that the photos we showed were all 'fake news'… it's a real pity to see people from the same country behaving in such a manner."
One student even faced some direct aggression. She said: "I had to process aggressive yelling from a student at me. She was trying to morally shame me by saying that my mum will be disappointed with me (she won't). I felt defeated by the unreasonable demands and accusations. Being told that we had to shut the stall down exacerbated those feelings."
Nonetheless, the students running the stall felt that they were supported by the Student Union and Security Staff, everyone I talked to understood the reasons for the stall being closed down.
After discussing the closing down of their stall with the President of UCL Amnesty, she highlighted how the events which took place were something to learn from when organising future events. Democracy and the Right to Protest (with a focus on Hong Kong) will remain the campaign for next term, however greater security precautions will be taken for future Hong Kong focused events, reducing the chance that they will be closed down due to counter-protests, allowing UCL to remain a place of conversation and exchange of opinions.
While the Amnesty stall didn't run for the period it intended, you can still sign the petition to 'protect the rights of people in Hong Kong' here!
UCL Amnesty will be holding events focused on Democracy, the Right to Protest and Human Rights in Hong Kong all through next term. Providing students with "a constructive conversation to be held between groups".