Benny Tai, an associate professor in law at the University of Hong Kong made comments at a forum in Taiwan in late March, which have been widely criticised by the Hong Kong government and pro-Beijing groups. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) in strongly criticising the condemnation of Tai’s comments.
On March 24 and 25, Benny Tai was attending a forum in Taiwan, when he made comments deemed to be promoting Hong Kong independence. After the comments were made public, on March 30, the Hong Kong government issued a statement “strongly condemning” Tai saying that “Hong Kong could consider becoming an independent state”. The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council, the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong pro-Beijing political party condemned Tai’s comments. China Daily, the state owned media also condemned the statements and called on the Hong Kong government to take legal action against Tai. Several pro-Beijing groups called for Tai to be sacked from University of Hong Kong.
Tam Yiu-Chung, the new deputy of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee criticised Tai’s comments, and said that the Hong Kong government needed to enact Article 23 legislation before the term ends in June 2022. Article 23 under the Basic Law prohibits treason, secession, sedition, and subversion against the Central Government.
Since the comments were made public, Tai has repeatedly said that he does not support Hong Kong independence and that the remarks were merely academic discussion. He referred to the Chinese idiom, which says “a chicken being killed to scare monkeys”, saying that he believed the uproar was an attempt to pave the way for Article 23 to be legislated.
The HKJA, Independent Commentators Association and the Journalism Educators for Press Freedom issued a joint statement on April 5 noting concerns over the uproar instigated by the Hong Kong government and pro-Beijing groups, and the chilling effect it will have. The state said: “We are against incrimination with words. We believed the Hong Kong Government has a duty to defend free speech in Hong Kong.” It also said that there was no particular law which Tai’s remarks had violated. The statement demanded the Hong Kong government to clarify which law Tai had violated.
Benny Tai was one of the founders of the 2014 Occupy Movement in Hong Kong.
The IFJ Asia Pacific Office said: “Free speech remains the fourth pillar of democracy. There is no law in Hong Kong which says comments made outside Hong Kong could amount to any crime, nor does any legislation say comments made inside Hong Kong amount to a crime.”
The IFJ calls on the Hong Kong Government to clarify the legal basis for its statement.
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