A move by authorities to curb rising support for Hong Kong independence in high schools has come under fire by student groups.

Last week, student group Studentlocalism (學生動源) called on high school students to set up their own associations to promote Hong Kong’s independence from China. Groups from at least 17 schools are understood to have since become associated with Studentlocalism. According to Hong Kong website Local Press, several teachers have also voiced their support for the movement.

Over the weekend, the Hong Kong Academy of School Managers told schools to prohibit teachers from promoting the idea of Hong Kong seceding from China. The Education Bureau warned teachers their licenses could be cancelled if they promote independence in classes.

Studentlocalism responded with a statement on Facebook, saying students would not back down despite the threat from the authorities. It criticized officials for trying to tie teachers’ professional certification to their political leanings. It said teachers and school staff had spoken to some of its members about their political views and warned the bureau not to suppress student freedom.

Yingwa Localism Association (英華本土學社), another student group, said teachers have the responsibility to train students to think independently, and should be free to discuss political issues, including Hong Kong independence, with students. It says authorities are censoring teachers.

Huang Ruihong (黃瑞紅) is a well-known Hong Kong lawyer and a member of Progressive Lawyer Group (法政匯思). She said that as freedom of speech is guaranteed under Hong Kong's Basic Law – Hong Kong’s constitutional document – the ban on discussing Hong Kong independence is therefore illegal. The bureau’s stance also violates the spirit of rule of law, she said.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung [梁振英] said the ban on promoting independence in the classroom is not related to freedom of speech. He suggested discussing independence was harmful to Hong Kong, and that young people who advocate the idea may “pay a high price.”

Studentlocalism’s Facebook page was set up in April and currently has more than 4,000 followers. It is one of many fledgling pro-independence political groups that have emerged in Hong Kong over the past year.

While the groups are still in the minority of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy, or anti-Beijing political camp, the movement’s impact on political discourse in Hong Kong is becoming increasingly pronounced and surveys suggest support is rising.

One key group advocating independence is the Hong Kong National Party. To date it has not been able to register with officials and its leader was one of six candidates who were not allowed to qualify as candidates in the Legislative Council elections next month.

However, the party and others like it has enjoyed increasing publicity.

On Aug. 5, the party helped organize Hong Kong’s first independence rally. A party spokesperson told The News Lens International the rally was “historic” and attracted people of different ages and demographics. The turnout – the party says 10,000 people while others say 2,000-3,000 – was larger than expected.

Despite its exclusion from the September elections, the party plans further political demonstrations and legal challenges, the spokesperson says.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole