The University of Hong Kong’s decision to fire a professor who led pro-democracy protests has been called “poetic justice” by China’s liaison office.

On July 28, the university’s governing council voted 18-2 to dismiss the 56-year-old professor following his recent criminal conviction related to political protests, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported. Later that day, China’s liaison office responded to the firing of the tenured professor. The Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) quoted the office as calling the action “poetic justice” for someone who had been “misleading and poisoning” the minds of young people.

A leader of Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement

Last year, Tai was given a prison sentence of 16 months for minor crimes related to the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement which paralyzed parts of Hong Kong for 79 days in 2014, the SCMP recalled. The ruling is being appealed and Tai is out on bail, the newspaper added.

The SCMP also noted that the University of Hong Kong's academic senate had decided that the misdeeds committed by Tai had not been serious enough for the professor to be fired. Unlike the academic senate, the university's governing council is dominated by people from outside the university, the SCMP pointed out.

Tai responds to his dismissal

The legal scholar responded to the university's decision with a bilingual post on his Facebook page under his Chinese name Tai Yiu Ting. He made no mention of mainland China or Beijing loyalists in Hong Kong but he claimed that “an authority beyond the University” had been responsible for his dismissal.

He expressed his gratitude to the university for enabling him to grow and develop as a student and teacher. Tai concluded by saying he was optimistic that he would see academic freedom restored at the university.

Others in Hong Kong react to Tai's dismissal

The HKFP obtained reactions to Tai's dismissal from some local figures.

Xiang Zhang, the vice-chancellor of the university and chairman of its academic senate, said he could not discuss details of the case, but he stressed that the university wanted "diversity of views and vigorous debate." Chan Kin-man, who had been active with Tai in the Umbrella Movement, called upon the university to give a full explanation for Tai’s dismissal. Joshua Wong, a pro-democracy activist, and candidate in Hong Kong’s upcoming legislative elections said the universities in the former British colony were no longer safe from interference from Beijing.

China’s liaison office said Tai’s removal was a “purification” of the academic atmosphere at the university and the governing council’s decision “complies with popular sentiment,” the HKFP reported.