University of Hong Kong (HKU) vice chancellor Peter Mathieson is defending his actions relating to freedom of expression in the wake of public criticism.
“I have at no time said that discussion of Hong Kong independence is an abuse of freedom of expression,” Mathieson told the the Scottish newspaper The Scotsman in an interview.
The interview came ahead of Mathieson taking up a position as principal and vice chancellor of the University of Ediburgh in January next year, one year before his five-year term ends with HKU.
In a joint statement on Sept. 15, heads of 10 universities in Hong Kong, including Mathieson, condemned what they said were abuses of freedom of expression. They said they do not support Hong Kong independence.
The statement was widely interpreted as saying they consider any discussion of Hong Kong independence to be outside the guarantees of free speech.
That prompted student unions from 12 tertiary institutions, including seven public universities (except the Hong Kong Polytechnic University), to issue their own joint statement, saying their right to discuss independence is protected under Article 27 of the Basic Law.
Mathieson told The Scotsman that the joint statement he co-signed in fact comprised two parts that should not be linked to each other, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The first part is about abuse of freedom of expression, which is aimed at specific examples of “hate speech”, Mathieson said.
It relates to congratulatory messages for Undersecretary for Education Christine Choi Yuk-lin on her son’s death by suicide, and another suggesting “celebrating” the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York.
The second part reiterates the group’s position that it does not support Hong Kong independence, Mathieson said. He said there was no mention of “discussion of independence” as an abuse of freedom of expression.
The reason people mistook the two parts for one might have been due to the fact that the statement was short, drawing speculation from quite a number of people, said Mathieson, who allegedly hesitated before signing the statement.
Mathieson said it is deeply regrettable that Hong Kong’s higher education has been politicized.
He said different political camps in Hong Kong “exploit the same words or events to mean different things according to their own aims and wishes”.
While Mathieson did not say whether he supports discussion of independence on campus, Julian Ho, former editor of Undergrad, a magazine published by the HKU students’ union, questioned if he will do so after he leaves HKU.
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Tuesday that advocating independence is not tolerable under “one country, two systems” and violates the Chinese constitution and the Basic Law.
Most Hongkongers believe there is no room for the ideology of independence, Lam said, adding the government will deal with it according to Hong Kong’s rule of law.
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