Watch what you say about Hong Kong independence, CY Leung warns local schools
Chief executive says issue is not matter of ‘freedom of speech’ but of ‘right and wrong’
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying yesterday warned teachers they had a duty to provide students with proper guidance on the issue of Hong Kong independence, saying it was “not a matter of freedom of speech” but of “right and wrong”.
The stern rebuttal came in response to rising independence advocacy on the city’s campuses and increased discussion of the contentious issue, even as one Beijing official described such talk as “poison”.
Leung rejected claims that discussing independence in schools was about freedom of expression, and said school principals and other educators had an obligation to steer pupils away from unlawful activities or conduct that could “harm their lives and bodies”.
Speaking on the sidelines of a legal seminar in Shenzhen, the legal affairs chief of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, Professor Wang Zhenmin, said debate about independence should not be allowed as it “amounts to a violation of laws in Hong Kong”.
A pro-independence group calling itself Studentlocalism has been spearheading a drive for students to set up localist concern groups at the start of the new academic year. And over the weekend the Education Bureau weighed in by appearing to lay all responsibility with teachers as it warned they would be struck off if they advocated independence in schools.
Educators were left wondering where the parameters lay in such discussions, while critics called it intimidation and a curb on freedom of speech.
Speaking before an Executive Council meeting yesterday, Leung cautioned that if the idea of independence took root, Hong Kong’s stability would be affected and its relationship with the mainland damaged.
“We should have a stance of what is right and what is wrong. Schools have a responsibility to guide students in the right direction.”
Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said at the Shenzhen seminar that freedom of speech was guided by laws.
He cited Articles 1 and 12 of the Basic Law reaffirming Hong Kong’s status as an inalienable part of China with a high degree of autonomy yet reporting directly to the central government.
“While freedoms of speech and expression are guaranteed by the Basic Law and its relevant human rights provisions, such freedoms are bound by the law,” he said. “The most common example would be laws regarding defamation, so it is not to say that freedom of expression should be absolute and free from regulation.”
Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim held a meeting with teachers and principals yesterday. A bureau spokesman said he reiterated activities promoting the cause should not occur on campuses and that Hong Kong independence violated the Basic Law.
“Ng believes teachers and principals can defend the campuses and offer students the correct guidance, and the Education Bureau is happy to offer support,” the spokesman said.
Wong Hak-lim of the Professional Teachers’ Union accused the bureau of spreading “white terror”, while James Lam Yat-fung, chairman of the Hong Kong Subsidised Secondary Schools Council, said frontline educators were feeling extra pressure from the bureau as it was not their role to curb independence discussions.
“We need to remind ourselves what our aim and motives are when teaching students certain topics, rather than screening what they should learn,” he said.
Studentlocalism also revealed that members of concern groups at two schools, which it declined to identify, had been summoned by the school authorities.
A spokesman said: “So far there has been no punishment.”
The group warned the government against stifling the cause, “or we shall hit back decisively”.