Journalists in HK defy Beijing request to cancel speech - Taipei Times
Tue, Aug 07, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Journalists in HK defy Beijing request to cancel speech

FREE SPEECH:The Foreign Correspondents’ Club is to host pro-independence activist Andy Chan Ho-tin, saying the public deserves to hear different views

AP, HONG KONG

Pro-independence activist Andy Chan Ho-tin speaks to journalists in Hong Kong on Feb. 13.

Photo: Reuters

A journalists’ association in Hong Kong says it will defy the Chinese government and follow through with a planned speech by a pro-independence activist that has become a mounting political flashpoint in the territory.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs this month asked the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) to cancel a talk by Andy Chan Ho-tin (陳浩天), convener of the Hong Kong National Party.

The request raised questions about Beijing’s growing influence in the former British colony, which was promised semi-autonomy and freedom of speech as part of a 1997 handover arrangement.

The FCC said in a statement yesterday it believes its members and the public have the right “to hear the views of different sides in any debate” and will continue with the event.

“We believe that in free societies such as Hong Kong it is vitally important to allow people to speak and debate freely, even if one does not agree with their particular views,” the club statement said.

The 75-year-old organization has previously hosted politicians and newsmakers, including pro-Beijing speakers, at its iconic clubhouse in central Hong Kong. It is set to host Chan on Aug. 14 for a talk titled “Hong Kong Nationalism: A Politically Incorrect Guide to Hong Kong under Chinese Rule.”

The perception that Beijing is reneging on its promise and eroding Hong Kong’s free elections and freedom of speech is helping fuel a rising generation of young activists calling for greater autonomy, if not outright independence.

Huge pro-democracy protests erupted in 2014 in response to the decision by the Chinese Communist Party to retain the right to effectively pre-screen candidates for Hong Kong’s leadership.

The movement has been met with repeated warnings from Chinese officials, including President Xi Jinping (習近平), that separatist activity would not be tolerated.

Hong Kong police have told Chan, 27, that he has until Sept. 4 to provide a legal defense of his party or else it will be disbanded under a 1997 ordinance that allows authorities to shut down groups deemed an imminent threat to national security.

Hong Kong officials have dismissed the FCC’s argument that Chan’s appearance amounts to a free speech matter, with former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) equating the FCC event with giving a platform to “criminals and terrorists.”

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) told reporters on Sunday that it was “inappropriate” for the FCC to host Chan and asked the organization to respect that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China.

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