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Wednesday, September 13, 2017, 00:58
Lam: Separatism advocacy not a free-speech issue
By Willa Wu and Tommy Yuen
Wednesday, September 13, 2017, 00:58 By Willa Wu and Tommy Yuen

Residents protest outside the Hong Kong Police Headquarters in Wan Chai on Tuesday to demand action against activists who displayed separatist banners and slogans on university campuses in the city. (Parker Zheng / China Daily)

HONG KONG - Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday said the issue of advocating “Hong Kong independence” on campus was a constitutional, rather than freedom of speech, matter.

The question was whether Hong Kong people respected the “one country, two systems” principle, she said.

Speaking to reporters before the weekly Executive Council meeting, Lam said advocating separatism was really about whether Hong Kong people cared for the freedoms and rights guaranteed by the “one country, two systems” principle. It also concerned Hong Kong’s future development, stability and prosperity. 

She also dismissed allegations that the government had interfered with academic freedom. Lam said she respected universities’ institutional autonomy and freedom of speech and would let university authorities handle recent controversial incidents. 

Lam also stressed that putting up highly insensitive posters mocking someone’s death was not about freedom of speech. Rather, it was a matter of whether Hong Kong was a compassionate society and showed respect for people who were suffering, she explained. 

Lam’s remarks followed a series of incidents when illegal and immoral messages were posted on public noticeboards on university campuses. 

Since the beginning of the new semester this month, posters advocating “Hong Kong independence” appeared on some university campuses. Offensive messages ridiculing the death of the son of Under Secretary for Education Christine Choi Yuk-lin were put on billboards at the Education University of Hong Kong last Thursday.

In a statement about the poster incidents last Friday, Lam said this “overstepped society’s bottom line”. She stressed that freedom of speech had its limits; academic independence should not be used as an excuse to advocate fallacious ideas.

In other developments, two separate groups of citizens have petitioned the police headquarters in Wan Chai, urging police to stop people illegally advocating “Hong Kong independence”. They said such behavior contravenes the Basic Law; there could be no room for this in Hong Kong.

Ashley Tse Hiu-hung from Hong Kong Youth Enlightenment – one of the groups that handed these petitions to police – said a small group of student activists used “Hong Kong independence” posters to illegally promote wrong and harmful ideas. But she said the groups had cast themselves as pursuing “democracy” and exercising freedom of speech.

She urged the police and the public prosecution office under the Department of Justice to take action to stop separatism being promoted on campuses.

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