A top Hong Kong university said on Monday it wouldn't take action against students who hung a pro-independence banner on its campus to mark Chinese National Day, in spite of calls from the city's chief executive to sanction any talk of independence in schools.
University of Hong Kong vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson said the banner, which read "Hong Kong independence," had been removed because it was unauthorized, however.
"If those banners are hung without permission, then we have the right to take them down," Mathieson told reporters. "That’s what happened at the weekend [and] as far as I know, that’s where it stops."
Similar banners, which were provided by the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) appeared in several higher education institutions as dignitaries celebrated the 67th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on Saturday.
Most were rapidly removed.
HKNP convenor Chan Ho-tin said the banners were provided to students, who chose to hang them up themselves.
"All their actions – the execution, the operation – are carried out by the students," Chan said, adding that the party planned to "cooperate" with students on future actions too.
He added: "National Day is not a day for celebration, but a humiliation to Hong Kong."
'Not mature adults'
The banners also appeared at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Hong Kong Baptist University, The City University of Hong Kong, the Education University of Hong Kong, Lingnan University, and Hong Kong Polytechnic University, local media reported.
Some community colleges and a public housing project also took part in the action.
Pro-Beijing academic Lau Siu-Kai said the banners may upset the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which has slammed any talk of independence in the former British colony.
But he told the Apple Daily newspaper that the activists were "only students and not mature adults."
The city's Education Bureau warned that the pursuit of independence for Hong Kong goes against its mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
"Educational institutions must take some responsibility for the students’ actions," it said in a statement.
Chief executive Leung Chun-ying called on the city to unite behind its current political system in his National Day speech, only to be interrupted by shouts from pan-democratic politicians calling on him to resign.
No reason to celebrate
They were escorted out of the venue by security guards. However, most of the pan-democratic camp boycotted the event.
Former Occupy Central student protest leader Nathan Law, 23, said the event was no cause for celebration, citing Beijing's human rights record.
"As long as they don't recognize that what they are doing is wrong, we shouldn't go and celebrate this kind of holiday," Law told Agence France-Presse.
Outside the venue, a group of protesters led by pan-democratic lawmaker Leung Kwok-hug held up a replica of a coffin inscribed with the words "In memory of the People's Heroes."
Elsewhere, some 50 people staged a pro-Beijing demonstration, playing the national anthem and shouting "oppose Hong Kong independence!"
Beijing has repeatedly warned that "separatist" ideas won't be tolerated in the former British colony, and candidates in last month's Legislative Council (LegCo) elections were forced to sign a declaration rejecting independence.
In the end, several candidates were barred from taking part in the election, with officials citing their openly stated support for independence.
Leung's administration is believed to have acted on instructions from Beijing officials, and also called on the city's schools to punish any talk of independence among students, threatening teachers with deregistration.
A recent opinion survey showed that almost 40 percent of young people in Hong Kong favor independence for the city in 2047, when existing arrangements with China expire.
Many younger voters cite the erosion of Hong Kong's traditional freedoms of speech, publication and judicial independence, including the cross-border detentions of five sellers of "banned books" and a recent attempt by the Justice Department to secure jail sentences for former leaders of the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement.
Reported by RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.