Freedom no shield for cowardly attacks

University poster taunting Christine Choi over the death of her son is an act of cruelty that must be met with appropriate punishment

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 September, 2017, 3:48am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 September, 2017, 3:48am

Vile personal attacks that pervert public discourse may make headlines, but they do not usually warrant serious comment. An exception is when society is so affronted by a high-profile example of gratuitous, cowardly cruelty that voices across the social and political spectrum condemn it unequivocally. We report a case in point today. Our first thoughts must be with the family of Poon Hong-yan, who jumped to his death from a 41st-floor flat in Yau Ma Tei on Thursday. Poon was the son of Hong Kong’s No 2 education official, undersecretary Christine Choi Yuk-lin. Her recent appointment was controversial, but that does not excuse the targeting of her as a mother grieving for her child.

Our next thoughts should be to deplore the extent to which politicisation and ideology can undermine consensus on rational debate over matters of importance in Hong Kong, at the cost in this instance of a sense of decency.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam condemns ‘callous’ campus taunts after suicide of top official’s son

Within hours of the tragedy, two people had pasted a poster on the “democracy wall” at Education University taunting Choi over her son’s death, and “congratulating” her in Chinese on her loss. Internet users posted taunts directed at Choi on the university’s Facebook page and elsewhere. Other internet users came to her defence.

The appointment of the former secondary school principal received a mixed reception owing to her pro-Beijing sympathies and concern they might pave the way for implementing national education. An online petition against her appointment amassed more than 10,000 signatures, prompting Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to deny there were any plans to introduce national education as an independent subject.

Sense of decency needed in times of family tragedy

The university’s student union fumbled an opportunity to raise the tone and uphold values we expect of our future teachers in a statement dissociating its members from the posters. Bizarrely, it lectured the university about freedom of speech. “Although the nature of the message [in the posters] is highly controversial, it does not mean the school can take this as an opportunity to restrict freedom of speech ... if any student is punished for making any ethically controversial remarks, we believe that students will become more afraid of expressing their own opinions.”

What nonsense; this has nothing to do with freedom of expression, except for the abuse of it. Freedom of speech remains a core value of Hong Kong but it is not absolute. There are times like the present when boundaries must be self-imposed in the name of other values we hold dear. For the sake of confidence in the education of our future teachers, we trust the culprits will be unmasked and, if students, that the university’s disciplinary action fits the misdeed.