Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that the appearance of Hong Kong independence slogans on university campuses is not a question of free speech.
Pro-independence messes appeared on campuses last week, sparking debate over whether discussion of the idea should be allowed in schools. Several universities have weighed in saying they did not support independence, but it was unclear whether discussion ought be allowed.
“I respect institutional autonomy and freedom of speech. This is not a question about freedom of speech,” she said ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday.
“This is a question of whether we are respecting ‘One Country, Two Systems,’ and whether we are concerned about the development of Hong Kong, and also whether we are a compassionate society, showing respect especially for people who are caught in a very difficult position.”
Her statement issued last Friday said that “freedom of speech is not without limits” and that the remarks “have already overstepped the bottom line of society.”
Another slogan posted on a message board at the Education University last Thursday “congratulated” pro-Beijing Education Undersecretary Choi Yuk-lin over the death of her son.
“She is one of my undersecretaries, but she is also human, I have responded to such speeches in my statement,” she said. The statement said “the remarks are entirely disrespectful, against the moral values of society and cold-blooded.”
“I don’t want to reply to every single response. Whenever I say something, there will be some emotional responses… this administration has been trying to put an end to such unnecessary disputes,” she added.
Another slogan mocked the late Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and “congratulated” his widow Liu Xia for being under house arrest in China. When asked whether the government took the same stance over both incidents, Lam insisted she would not comment further.
“The media should ask more questions about the governance of Hong Kong,” she said.
She said any follow-up action should be decided by universities.
“Of course, if there are illegal activities, then law enforcement agencies should handle them. But for now university management should handle the issues themselves,” she said.
A man was seen tearing down posters at the Lingnan University on Monday evening. The posters said that people should respect others’ freedom of speech, even if they do not support Hong Kong independence.
A student took photographs of the incident and reported it to the police. The police are handling the case as criminal damage and no-one has been arrested.
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.
Editor’s note: Digital media outlets such as Hong Kong Free Press are currently barred from attending government press conferences.