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HK leader slams student magazine over independence call

January 14, 2015

Hong Kong’s leader used a major policy speech Wednesday to single out a little-known student magazine for criticism after it advocated independence from China, sparking fury from its editor as fears grow over press freedom.

In an unusual move, Leung Chun-ying blasted “Undergrad” magazine of Hong Kong university in the high-profile speech to the city’s legislature, dismissing as “fallacies” its claim that “Hong Kong should find a way to self-reliance and self-determination”.

The speech was Chief Executive Leung’s first to Hong Kong’s legislature since the semi-autonomous city was gripped by more than two months of student-led mass street protests calling for free leadership elections — which he said risked “anarchy”.

Beijing has maintained its insistence that candidates in the 2017 elections will be vetted by a loyalist committee.

Leung criticised a headline in the magazine that read “Hong Kong people deciding their own fate”, as well as a book it published in 2013 titled “Hong Kong Nationalism”.

While the campaign for fully free elections has widespread support, few in the city seek complete autonomy from China.

Undergrad’s chief editor Luke Yuen said Leung’s remarks were “unacceptable”.

“It was an attack on the freedom of speech,” he told AFP. “We have the right and freedom to discuss the possibility of being independent and he should not intervene.

“It harms not only the magazine but also the general public and mass media.”

Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho hit out at Leung for putting “undue pressure” on students and “hurting free speech”, in comments reported by local website RTHK.

The chief executive’s comments come amid growing fears over Beijing’s influence and an erosion of press and other freedoms in Hong Kong, where most publications are owned by Beijing-affiliated tycoons.

On Monday the home and office of pro-democracy newspaper tycoon Jimmy Lai were hit by firebomb attacks. Last year, the former editor of the liberal Ming Pao newspaper was attacked in broad daylight with a cleaver by two men who escaped on a motorbike.

A British colony until 1997, Hong Kong is ruled under a “one country, two systems” deal that allows it far greater civil liberties than those enjoyed on the Chinese mainland, including freedom of speech and the right to protest.

When questioned by reporters on why he had singled out the magazine in a heavyweight address on political reform and key domestic issues, Leung defended the move.

“Advocating Hong Kong’s independence is… not an ordinary current affairs issue. We should be concerned,” he said.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.