Hong Kong government passing buck on legality of independence calls, says Basic Law expert Alan Hoo
At same time, former chief secretary Henry Tang says issue should not be discussed in schools
The government has been “passing the buck” by failing to clarify whether promoting independence is unlawful, while asking school administrators to ban such calls, according to a Basic Law expert.
The criticism by Basic Law Institute chairman Alan Hoo on Wednesday came as former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen said independence should not be discussed in schools.
Tang likened the topic to taboos about immorality, such as “incestuous, criminal and triad activities”.
The debate intensified as education minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim flew to Beijing for a “regular working meeting” with authorities.
His trip was only announced at 8.30am on Wednesday 30 minutes before his departure, raising speculation over a possible central government reaction to the issue.
Hoo said there was a legal basis on deciding whether pro-independence actions were lawful, citing Section 9 of the Crimes Ordinance against sedition.
If the government clarified that independence was criminal, students should not be allowed to discuss it, he said.
“The secretary for justice has the responsibility to let people know whether pushing for independence is criminal and to what extent it becomes criminal.”
In April, Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said the government was studying whether the National Party, which advocates independence, had violated the crimes, companies and societies ordinances.
Hoo urged the government not to “pass the buck” first to returning officers, who have been vilified for disqualifying pro-independence candidates for the Legislative Council elections, and then to teachers.
Rita Fan, a delegate to China’s top legislature, said there should be no problem with discussing independence in schools, but advocacy should not be allowed.
Tang, who was defeated by Leung Chun-ying in the 2012 chief executive election, waded into the debate a day after Leung warned teachers they had to provide students with proper guidance on the issue
“Many topics of immorality would not be discussed in schools, such as incest, criminal behaviour or triads.” Tang said. “And independence should not be discussed either because it goes against our most fundamental principle – Article 1 of the Basic Law,” which cements Hong Kong’s status as an inalienable part of China.
Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said: “Tang misunderstood that only the right things can be discussed in schools.”
Studentlocalism convenor Chang Yeuk-fei, a secondary school pupil, said on Commercial Radio: “Self-determination is a civilised and fair way to [allow people to determine their future]... Why can’t Hongkongers discuss it?”
Cheung Yui-fai, vice-president of the Professional Teachers’ Union, criticised the stringent approach the government has adopted in handling pro-independence sentiment among students, describing it as no different from “sweeping all problems under the carpet”.
Additional reporting by Jeffie Lam