Groups of localist students handed out promotional material on Hong Kong independence at schools across the city on Thursday morning, as hundreds of thousands of pupils headed to school on the first day of the new term.
The move came as Education Minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim stressed that promoting independence is against the Basic Law and that he trusted schools and teachers to have enough experience in handling such campaigns.
Ying Wa College in Cheung Sha Wan is one of at least five secondary schools where students who set up localist Facebook groups have said they would distribute flyers to encourage discussions or promote the idea of separating Hong Kong from China.
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Braving an amber rainstorm warning, the Ying Wa localist group – with only three members – set up stations outside the school and handed out leaflets with “Hong Kong Independence” printed on them from 7.30am to 8am.
They also used a loudspeaker to call for more students to join their group and criticised the government’s disqualification of six pro-independence Legislative Council candidates for Sunday’s election.
While teachers at the school were standing behind the school gate, waiting to greet students, they did not stop the localist students’ campaign.
By the end of the drive on Thursday morning, more than half of the 400 flyers were given out, said Chan Pui Chung, one of the three localist members.
Chan met Ying Wa’s principal for 15 minutes after the event. Chan, who graduated from the school two years ago, quoted the principal as saying that the group could not hand out flyers on campus but they are free to do whatever they wished outside.
“The principal said he had spoken to some Liberal Studies teachers, telling them to allow discussions regarding Hong Kong independence,” Chan said. “He said the school would not deliberately avoid such discussions.
“We are very happy that the school has remained open-minded about this,” he said.
But Chan added that the principal remained negative on holding forums on independence on campus.
Ng said after visiting a primary school in Tin Shui Wai on Thursday morning that if promotional events had interrupted other students’ normal studies, schools could contact the school’s management office, the Education Bureau’s local district office or the policy public relations department for help.
He reiterated that discussions on independence could happen on campus under the guidance of teachers and on the precondition that it is against the Basic Law and the “one country, two systems” policy.
The localist group at Salesian English School in Shau Kei Wan set out around 120 leaflets and 100 stickers at a location on the campus where students would definitely pass by and could take them. The convenor of the localist group at the school later said that teachers had confiscated the material before many students managed to get hold of them.
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A student at the school, who declined to be named, said he was “a little disgusted” by what the group was doing.
“We do not know who these people are and they do not seem like they are students from our school,” he said. The student said he felt independence should not be advocated in schools.
The secretary general of the school’s student union, who did not wish to be named, said he did not have much of an opinion on the matter as long as members of the localist group did not “disrupt the order” of the school.
While he had not noticed the presence of the group affecting the students, he noted an increasing concern about the idea of independence, adding that the union would monitor the situation.
Most students the South China Morning Post spoke to at the school declined to comment, or said they were unaware of the presence of the group or had no comment on the matter.
An Australian-Chinese mother of a student from the primary school section said she was not concerned about her son potentially receiving such pro-independence leaflets as she did not see her family as people of China.
“We are ethnically Chinese but we are not Chinese citizens, so it does not really affect us even if my son sees such leaflets,” she said.
“I will ask him to not care about what these flyers say. He has an Australian passport and we will eventually return to Australia.”
The localist group at HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity in Kowloon City also handed out flyers, while students at ELCHK Yuen Long Lutheran Secondary School in Yuen Long and Tung Chung Catholic School also planned promotional events for Thursday.