Government allies on the Legislative Council defeated a motion yesterday calling for the release of Liu Xiaobo and other dissidents jailed on the mainland, saying it would amount to 'interference in the mainland jurisdiction'. The non-binding motion, presented by the Democratic Party's Fred Li Wah-ming, urged the central government to immediately free Liu, who is serving an 11-year sentence in Beijing for subversion. Liu was a co-author of the democracy manifesto Charter 08. The motion also urged the Hong Kong government to implement universal suffrage in accordance with principles laid out in the charter. The 31/2-hour debate began with most Beijing loyalists absent from their seats. Three minutes after Li started his speech, unionist Lee Cheuk-yan pointed out that a quorum had not been met. Legco president Tsang Yok-sing rang the bell to call lawmakers back to the chamber. To express their support for Liu, pan-democrats wore paper masks on which the jailed scholar's photo was printed. They said the imprisonment of activists on the mainland amounted to suppression of free speech and that Hongkongers' rights could also be harmed one day. 'Many Hong Kong citizens have signed Charter 08. If we were not in Hong Kong, we might have been arrested already,' Li said. The social welfare sector's Peter Cheung Kwok-che went further: 'The incident is making us worry about legislation on Article 23 of the Basic Law ... If Liu Xiaobo can be imprisoned for more than a decade just for writing some articles criticising the authorities, will Hong Kong people be considered to be engaging in subversion for fighting for universal suffrage in the future?' The pro-Beijing camp hit back, arguing that Legco would be violating the 'one country, two systems' principle if it passed the motion. Engineering sector representative Raymond Ho Chung-tai, a deputy to the National People's Congress, said: 'Some people accuse the mainland jurisdiction from their own perspectives. This 'big Hong Kong' attitude is dictatorial and domineering.' Another NPC member, Ip Kwok-him, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said: 'Since the Liu Xiaobo case, some people have been spreading intimidating messages that Hongkongers' freedom of speech will be threatened. Such an argument is ungrounded.' There were 22 votes for the motion and 25 votes against. Three independents - Li Fung-ying, Chan Kin-por and Samson Tam Wai-ho - abstained. The government issued a statement afterwards that said: 'Based on the principles of mutual respect and non-interference, it would not be appropriate for the HKSAR government to comment on the decision made under the judicial system of the mainland.'