Hong Kong localism and independence

Hong Kong student leaders take defiant stand on poster taunting education official over son’s death

Union leaders admit poster was inappropriate but say culprits were exercising freedom of speech

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 11:29pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 11:35pm

Hong Kong student leaders on Friday refused to condemn a poster taunting the city’s education undersecretary, whose son committed suicide, saying the people behind the message were exercising their freedom of speech.

The stance taken by the student leaders in six universities was in sharp contrast to that of university teaching staff, who said the remarks had gone beyond the limits of freedom of expression.

The poster, made of 12 sheets of A4 paper, was put up at Education University hours after Poon Hong-yan, son of deputy education chief Christine Choi Yuk-lin, jumped to his death on Thursday from the 41st floor of a residential complex in Yau Ma Tei. It “congratulated” Choi on the incident in Chinese.

The university, which is investigating the incident, said the CCTV footage showed two people putting up the poster on the “democracy wall” managed by the student union.

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Though admitting that the poster was adding insult to injury, Lala Lai Hiu-ching, an Education University student leader, said: “The student union will not condemn the remarks because freedom of speech and respect for others are both important.”

Lai emphasised that the poster was removed soon after as insult, personal attack and libel are forbidden on the “democracy wall”. She said the union would review its management of the wall.

Meanwhile, University of Hong Kong student leader Wong Ching-tak said that he and the student union “will not condemn the duo”, insisting students should be completely free to post their messages on the wall as long as they followed usage rules.

Another student leader, Lau Tsz-kei of Baptist University, also questioned why other morally controversial remarks on such “democracy walls” were not as heavily criticised as the one on the campus of Education University.

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Martin Yip, a student union committee member of Chinese University, said though he disagreed with the “unethical” poster, its removal was arguable.

Other student leaders, Apostle Lau Chak-fung of Shue Yan University and Alvin Chan Ngok-lam of City University, were also reluctant to criticise the message, stressing that users of democracy walls should know both their rights and duties.

But teaching staff said the poster had exceeded the limits of freedom of speech.

Paul Wong Shu-sing, a former senior lecturer, said he had never seen or heard such “evil” statements in his 22 years of teaching at Education University.

“It’s like stabbing them in the heart all over again,” Wong told the Post on campus. “It’s simply not what one decent, real human being would ever say.”

Roger Wong, an elected council member of Baptist University, agreed, saying: “As a teacher, I condemn what the duo did.”

But he pointed out that the banners advocating independence and the posters gloating over a young man’s death should be treated separately.

“Universities should allow the discussion of Hong Kong independence, but attacks on the death of one’s family member are beyond what freedom of speech tolerates,” he said.

A third-year student Daisy Tai said: “They have the right to say what they want and I can’t stop them.

“But I don’t think it’s right that they should twist the knife into the wounds.”

Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung