Pro-establishment legislators have petitioned Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung demanding that the government takes action against the appearance of pro-independence banners on university campuses across Hong Kong.  They also condemned slogans appearing on campus referring to the death of Undersecretary for Education Choi Yuk-lin‘s son.

The petition, signed by 39 pro-Beijing lawmakers, said that the abuse of freedom of speech will bring about conflict in society, and that pro-independence messages emerged because there were those who “spread illegal messages” under the banner of free speech.

Pro-Beijing lawmakers at a press conference on Monday. Photo: DAB via Facebook.

It urged university authorities to implement policies to prevent similar incidents from occurring and to issue a ban on material advocating independence: “It is indisputable that Hong Kong independence violates the Basic Law. Opposing Hong Kong independence is the wish of the general public, and society is concerned that if this incident continues, there will be a negative effect on universities and even the whole of society.”

At a press conference on Monday, DAB chairwoman Starry Lee said that the incident angered many in society, and they have requested that lawmakers speak up. Lee said that, as legislators, they have a responsibility to ask the university administration and the Education Bureau to deal with the matter.

‘Incompatible’ with the law

An Education Bureau spokesperson told HKFP that the government respects the public’s right to express their opinions and defends freedom of speech, but free speech was not without limits, and must be exercised in accordance with principles of legality, morality and mutual respect.

Kevin Yeung. File Photo: GovHK.

The spokesperson also said that Hong Kong independence was not compatible with One Country, Two Systems, nor the Basic Law, or society’s overall and long-term benefit.

They added that it has long encouraged higher education institutions to implement policies to strengthen education on Basic Law, so as to facilitate a comprehensive and correct understanding amongst students. The Education Bureau also condemned the “insulting behaviour towards the deceased and his family,” and said such vicious personal attacks hinder the development of Hong Kong into a society with high quality civilians, the spokesperson said.

“Society has invested a lot into higher education and holds high expectations towards universities and young people. We hope that the relevant individuals can reflect on the potential outcomes of their behaviour,” the spokesperson said.

A pro-independence banner at CUHK. Photo: InMedia.

On Monday, the student unions of 13 higher institutions have released a joint statement condemning Chief Executive Carrie Lam and university authorities for “making an explicit effort” to limit free speech after the emergence of the banners.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.