Professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting, one of the leaders of the 2014 Occupy Movement, said Beijing wants to make him an example to push Hong Kong to legislate Article 23 of the Basic Law on national security, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) was quoted as saying at a seminar organized by the Taiwan Youth Anti-Communist Corps in Taipei on March 25 that if the authoritarian regime in China falls apart one day, Hong Kong could consider becoming independent.
His remarks sparked strong criticism from Beijing’s mouthpieces, which accused him of advocating Hong Kong independence.
A spokesman for the Hong Kong government said on Friday it was shocked by the remarks made by a university teaching staff member that Hong Kong could consider becoming an independent state, and strongly condemned such remarks.
Tai said he was disappointed by the government for criticizing him without knowing what he said exactly. He said in a statement that he only told the seminar the authoritarian regime in China would end one day and China would eventually become a democratic country, and by then Hongkongers could have universal suffrage and exercise their right to self-determination, with independence as one of several options.
The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council and Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong issued strong statements on Saturday expressing their resolute support for the SAR government in its bid to rein in any collusion between Hong Kong separatists and external forces.
On Sunday, 41 pro-establishment lawmakers also issued a joint statement demanding that Tai apologize to the public.
In a radio interview on Monday, Tai made it clear that he does not have to apologize for his remarks, nor is he worried if he crossed the red line.
Stressing that he does not support Hong Kong independence, the HKU professor said he was only exploring options that may be available should China end its authoritarian regime.
He said the backlash against his remarks is a calculated plot against him with the aim of creating a chilling effect and paving the way for the legislation of Article 23 of the Basic Law, which prohibits treason, secession, subversion and political activities by foreign political bodies.
Yang Yueh-ching, executive director of Taiwan Youth Anti-Communist Corps, said in a Facebook post on Monday that Tai absolutely did not promote Hong Kong independence when he visited the island and suspected some people were trying to fan the flames.
Although HKU council chairman Arthur Li Kwok-cheung said Tai’s remarks were tantamount to supporting Hong Kong Independence, he claimed that Tai did not speak on behalf of the university, adding that it has no way to stop any person from making a fallacy.
In contrast, the Law Association of the HKU students union expressed deep disappointment and regret over such an attempt to clamp down on academic freedom and freedom of speech, adding that it is not illegal for someone to discuss the pros and cons of self-determination or Hong Kong independence.
Meanwhile, about 50 people representing pan-democratic parties staged a march from the Western Police Station to Beijing’s Liaison Office on Monday to protest what they called as attempts by Beijing and the Hong Kong government to curtail the people’s freedom of expression by criticizing Tai.
A total of 24 pan-democratic lawmakers also said in a joint statement that the Cultural Revolution type of suppression against Tai is meant to push for the legislation of an enhanced version of Article 23 of the Basic Law.
The lawmakers said Tai was only exploring the possible future of the city from an academic point of view.
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