A graduate claims the University of York censored his demonstration in support of pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong during his graduation ceremony.

Kyle Ma from Shandong in China held up a flag reading: “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” while onstage during his graduation on February 7 in York.

But the demonstration does not appear on the University of York’s live stream of the graduation on YouTube. Instead the video cuts to the university’s logo once Mr Ma’s name is called until the next graduate is announced.

A University of York spokesperson said it supports freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest but it is “protocol to change camera angles during live broadcasts if there is potential disruption on stage”.

Mr Ma graduated with a Master’s degree in social justice and education and said his demonstration drew on human rights elements from his course.

York Press: Kyle Ma with the flag he held during his graduation ceremony at the University of YorkKyle Ma with the flag he held during his graduation ceremony at the University of York (Image: Kyle Ma)

The 27-year-old, who lives in London, said he showed the flag upside down while on stage to “show disappointment” and express his “deep frustration, anxiety, and disappointment about the deteriorating situation of Hong Kong since 1997, 2014, 2019”.

“Afterwards I showed the flag in the proper way. This is my way to show my hope for the future of Hong Kong.”

He told The Press: “I feel a little bit upset because the graduation celebration is a once in a lifetime event.”

“But they (the University of York) just ignored it and wiped my existence out.”

York Press: The University of YorkThe University of York (Image: Newsquest)

He criticised the University of York for not doing what he felt was enough to support Chinese people during human rights issues.

“The University of York stood with Ukraine but when it comes to China everything becomes silent,” he said.

The Russell Group university welcomed 2,107 students from China in 2023, according to its website.

University's vice-chancellor declines request to take part in demonstration

Before his demonstration Mr Ma emailed the University of York’s vice-chancellor Professor Charlie Jeffery informing him about his plans to hold the flag during the graduation ceremony.

He asked Prof Jeffery to hold the flag with him during their handshake onstage to “convey our shared concern about the ongoing human rights violations in Hong Kong and demonstrate our solidarity with those still fighting for liberty”.

In an email seen by The Press a registrar from the university replied to Mr Ma on Prof Jeffery’s behalf and said: “Whilst we absolutely recognise the strength of feeling and commitment to this cause, we feel this request is not appropriate and respectfully request that you don’t present the flag to hold jointly with the vice-chancellor at this celebratory graduation occasion.”

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A University of York spokesperson said: “The university recognises the strength of feeling students may have on global issues, and, as an organisation that defends civil liberties, we support freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest.

“While we recognise that students do wear or hold protest materials in graduation ceremonies, it is protocol to change camera angles during live broadcasts if there is potential disruption on stage.

“Graduations are primarily an opportunity for our community to come together to celebrate and recognise all the achievements of our hard-working students.”