Free speech row as CUHK warns against pro-independence banners

September 06, 2017 14:47
CUHK vice-chancellor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu has faced calls from students to make his stand clear on the freedom of speech issue. Photo: CNSA

Banners calling for Hong Kong independence reappeared in the campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) on Tuesday, prompting the university authorities to issue a warning.

A university spokesperson reminded students that advocating Hong Kong independence would be deemed illegal under the Basic Law, and that the university is also against such activities.

The warning came as some students vowed to protect a large controversial banner that was unfurled in the university's Cultural Square, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

While it is not known who put up the banner, a group of around 20 students were seen guarding the material as they learnt that authorities were planning to remove it, as they did with similar banners a day earlier.

CUHK Students Association, meanwhile, criticized the authorities, saying they were curtailing freedom of speech.

The association demanded that vice-chancellor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu and vice-chancellor-elect Rocky S Tuan make their stand on the matter clear, Apple Daily reports.

Lee Chen-yung, vice chairperson of the Students Association, told the paper that the union did not put up the banner, and that the group was not aware of any plans to print more such material.

However, Lee decided to team up with 20 other students to protect the banner after being told that it was going to be removed at around 4 pm on Tuesday.

Lee criticized CUHK, saying its actions infringed on the rights of students in managing the Cultural Square.

Senior barrister and Executive Council member Ronny Tong Ka-wah said the distribution of the flyers and the banners may mark a breach of the "Crimes Ordinance".

An Apple Daily reporter observed that after nightfall, there were only a few students left to protect the banner when a Putonghua-speaking female student approached the “Democracy Wall” and attempted to tear down the material there, which included flyers.

She was stopped by the Students Association members.

The association, meanwhile, is said to have received a letter from the Office of Student’s Affairs about the banner and flyers being against the law.

Stating that it "absolutely disagrees" with calls for Hong Kong independence, the Office requested that the banners be removed.

Kevin Yam Kin-fung, founder of the Progressive Lawyers Group, said the flyers and posters had merely discussed the issues and did not insinuate or encourage others to harm the regime. Hence, no law was broken, he argued.

University campuses should be places where topics of any kind should be allowed for discussion, Yam said, adding that he finds it strange that CUHK is setting limits on free speech.

Responding to the criticism, a CUHK spokesperson pointed out that the Basic Law has stipulated clearly that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China

The university is not supportive of Hong Kong independence, the spokesperson added.

As the debate rages around developments at CUHK, the Undergrad magazine of Hong Kong University noted on its Facebook page that slogans were posted on the university's own democracy wall, bearing messages such as "Hong Kong Independence" and "We Support CUHK".

The Education University of Hong Kong also found a banner containing Hong Kong independence messages hung on its walls but had it removed quickly last evening.

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