Hong Kong Teacher Banned From Classroom After Teaching Students About Independence, Freedom of Speech

Government officials revoked a Hong Kong teacher's registration after an investigation found the teacher had allegedly used pro-independence materials in class.

The Education Bureau of China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region accused the teacher of committing a premeditated act in violation of Hong Kong's Basic Law, its de facto constitution that protects freedom of assembly and freedom of speech—neither of which exist in mainland China.

The teacher at Alliance Primary School in Kowloon Tong "had a plan to spread the independence message," the deputy secretary for education, Chan Siu Suk-fan, said Tuesday.

"In order to protect students' interest and safeguard teachers' professionalism and public trust in the teaching profession, the education bureau decided to cancel the teacher's registration," the bureau said in a statement.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said the bureau has told teachers since 2016 that the topic of "Hong Kong independence" cannot be openly discussed in classrooms, as it goes against the Basic Law.

The only manner in which the topic could be discussed is to maintain that "Hong Kong independence is not feasible," teaching students that the city is an inseparable part of China, the secretary said, according to The Standard, the city's main English newspaper.

The teacher had his registration revoked in late September, and is barred from teaching for the rest of his life, said Permanent Secretary for Education Michelle Li.

Hong Kong Students Pro-Democracy
School students hold signs during a pro-democracy protest against China's national security law on June 12, 2020 in Hong Kong, China. Government officials announced October 6 that they revoked a Hong Kong teacher’s registration after an investigation found the teacher had allegedly used pro-independence materials in class. Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty

The subject of Hong Kong's independence is a fraught one. When Britain relinquished control of its former colony in 1997, China pledged to preserve the "one country, two systems" framework through 2047.

Hong Kong has operated in a semiautonomous manner ever since, but the Chinese government has increasingly introduced legislation aimed at curtailing the city's freedoms, delivering a blow to the pro-democracy movement that's carried out large protests since last year.

The teacher made a lesson plan for other instructors that allocated 50 minutes for class discussion of Hong Kong independence, Siu said. The plan mentioned the Societies Ordinance, a law relating to the registration of societies, and the Hong Kong National Party, which government authorities outlawed in 2018. Students were asked to raise their hands if they supported independence, an act Siu found unacceptable.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam backed the bureau's decision to revoke the teacher's registration. An investigation showed the teacher used Hong Kong independence materials in his classes, according to a report published Tuesday in the state-run China Daily.

This is the first instance in which the Education Bureau has imposed such a penalty on a teacher, Lam said, but the bureau is working to find other teachers who might also be accused of professional misconduct.

The bureau has investigated more than 200 complaints against misconduct of teachers filed between June 2019 to August 2020, according state-run newswire Xinhua.

In addition to issuing the one de-registration, the bureau sent warning letters to 33 other teachers who could be disqualified if found guilty of misconduct again.

The Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union strongly condemned the instructor's disqualification and accused the bureau of failing to conduct a fair investigation, according to The Guardian.

The unilateral disqualification and issuing of warning letters to the school were "despicable acts of intimidation of the school management" and were unacceptable, it said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Hong Kong's Education Bureau declined to comment to Newsweek beyond what was said during Tuesday's press conference.

Update 4:44 p.m. ET:This article has been updated to include a comment from Hong Kong's Education Bureau.