About 30 pro-Beijing protesters rallied at the Legislative Council on Friday afternoon, condemning legal scholar Benny Tai Yiu-ting for “advocating” independence at a conference in Taiwan last week.

The University of Hong Kong law professor came under fire from the local and central governments after suggesting Hong Kong could consider becoming an independent state if the Chinese Communist Party collapses. He was widely attacked for advocating independence, though he denied ever supporting the idea.

Interview: Labelled a ‘threat to China,’ Hong Kong law scholar Benny Tai says Beijing is trying to brainwash Hongkongers

“There is no grey area for Hong Kong independence. It is a black-and-white issue,” said Gary Chan, a lawmaker for the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“Most Hongkongers oppose Hong Kong independence and condemn Tai’s speech,” he added. “Tai is not just an ordinary Hong Kong citizen. He is a law professor teaching at a university and his speech will affect many people,” Chan said.

“He is also a convener of Occupy Central. We believe he is not just talking about [Hong Kong independence], he had the attempt and intention to actually realise Hong Kong independence. Therefore, our council must deal with it in a serious way.”

Legislative motion passed

Chan submitted a motion at a legislative house committee meeting on Friday requesting a debate at the general meeting on May 9 about the impact of Tai’s speech on the interests of Hong Kong and China. It was passed by with the support of his camp.

“Through the debate, we hope to let society know that the LegCo firmly opposes such behaviour [of advocating independence], and we will follow up on the issue seriously.” Chan said at the protest.

Benny Tai. Photo: Cloud.

Liberal Party lawmaker Shiu Ka-fai also attended the demonstration. He said that, if the forum was just an academic discussion, there should be opinions from both sides of the debate. However, the event was organised by a group advocating Taiwan independence and everyone was in support of the idea.

“This was not related to academic freedom. This was an event advocating independence,” he said.

Lawmaker Elizabeth Quat said Tai’s speech violated the law and constitution. “Benny Tai and those from the opposition party, please do not use academic freedom and freedom of speech to cover your behaviour of advocating Hong Kong independence,” she said.

“We can discuss a wide range of topics under academic freedom, but not including advocating Hong Kong independence. We would also defend Hong Kong’s core value – freedom of speech. But there is a bottom line – it would not enable citizens to harm ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle, or advocate Hong Kong independence,” Quat added.

At the house committee meeting, the Civic Party’s Kwok Ka-ki also asked for a debate regarding Tai’s comment on May 9, but relating to how the statement from the government affected freedom of speech and academic freedom of Hong Kong. It was rejected by the committee.

Stella Wong

Stella Wong is a Hong Kong journalist and Bachelor of Journalism student at the University of Hong Kong. She focuses on local political and social issues and her work has been published by The Standard, Australian TV broadcaster SBS and Taiwan's Commonwealth magazine.