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Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has defended the city’s controversial decision to strip a primary school teacher of his job for allegedly spreading “independence” message through his lessons in the classroom.
Hong Kong’s education bureau said in a statement it cancelled the teacher’s registration “in order to protect students’ interest and safeguard teachers’ professionalism and public trust in the teaching profession”.
In a press conference on Tuesday, the city’s chief executive said that the education department’s move was based on the “premises” that a “serious” offence was committed “to smear the country” and the Hong Kong government “without basis”.
Lam added that de-registering a teacher is a “very serious penalty” under the city’s education rules and the order “shows the severity of the case” against the unnamed teacher.
She described the teacher’s action as similar in gravity to criminal and sexual offences punishable by de-registration.
— Hong Kong Free Press HKFP (@hkfp) October 6, 2020
In a separate press conference later on Tuesday, Education Secretary Kevin Yeung said that he wanted to weed out “black sheep” in the system, adding that the is “defending the dignity of educators and the public trust in them”.
He said discussions about Hong Kong independence are “unnecessary” and should be banned from school settings.
Critics say the move is further proof of the government’s effort to stifle freedom of expression and academic freedom in the city, coming after China passed, in July, a national security law, which criminalises vaguely defined “separatism” and foreign interference in the semi-autonomous city.
According to the city’s education bureau, the teacher’s action “could not have simply been an oversight”, because it would take some effort to formulate the lessons and create the teaching materials.
The bureau accused the teacher of twisting the content of the teaching materials, causing major harm to students.
Students and other young people make up most of the Hong Kong residents who have joined in the pro-democracy protests.
According to a Bloomberg report, as of May, people under the age of 18 make up a fifth of the 9,000 arrested in the city.
In a statement, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union said it would appeal the teacher’s case, calling the punishment “unacceptable” and “extreme”.
“The bureau did not seriously hear the teacher’s defence, unilaterally made the ruling, and issued a condemnation and written warning to the school principal and teachers respectively. It is a despicable act of intimidating the school management,” the union said.
Joshua Rosenzweig of Amnesty International added that the government’s action “sends an ominous message” to its educators “about the risks of discussing current affairs, politics and human rights in the classroom”.
“The removal of his teaching registration for ‘spreading pro-independence messages’ illustrates how freedom of expression is increasingly being eroded in Hong Kong, especially since the enactment of the national security law,” Rosenzweig said.
Since the launch of large protests in Hong Kong last year, Chinese authorities in Hong Kong have been calling for the government to “cut off” the “black hands” within the city’s education system.
Former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying was also supportive of the so-called purge of the system, calling on the government to identify teachers found guilty of professional misconduct.