A court in Hong Kong has canceled a care and protection order handed to a teenage girl who chalked flowers on a wall at a pro-democracy site in the city, removing the threat of being sent to a children's home.
The Tuen Mun magistrate's court revoked the order initiated by police who accused the 14-year-old of drawing chalk flowers on "Lennon Wall," near the former site of the Occupy Central movement in downtown Hong Kong.
The girl, who can't be named for legal reasons, but who has been dubbed Chalk Girl, sparked fears that the police were trying to send a political message over the 79-day Umbrella Movement that occupied key roads in Hong Kong in a campaign for fully democratic elections in the former British colony.
The would-be protester had chalked two flowers around a sticky-taped umbrella on Occupy Central's "Lennon Wall."
Her drawing sparked a rash of copycat chalk-drawing protests across Hong Kong, where police actions to clear protesters and an inflexible approach from local officials and the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing have left public anger simmering since protest sites were cleared earlier this month.
She was originally held in a children's home under supervision, but later released on bail following an application to the High Court by her lawyer, founding chairman of Hong Kong's Democratic Party, Martin Lee.
"It's such lovely weather today. She must be pretty happy," Lee, who acted pro bono in the case, told reporters after the decision.
Tuen Mun magistrate Winnie Lau said there was "no need" for the care and protection order to remain in place, based on reports from social workers.
Concerns over uniformed youth corps
Meanwhile, plans to set up a uniformed youth corps in Hong Kong have further sparked concerns in the city, following criticism by embattled chief executive C.Y. Leung of a student newspaper and calls from officials in Beijing for more Communist Party influence on the territory's education system.
Educators in Hong Kong have questioned the motives behind the newly established Hong Kong Youth Corps, which is run by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) garrison in the city.
Critics say the youth military training program oversteps legislation aimed at keeping the army out of Hong Kong affairs, while others say it is a form of political brainwashing by the Communist Party, whose officials were shocked at the audacity and anger shown by the city's young people during the Occupy movement.
The Hong Kong Youth Army was formally inaugurated at PLA naval headquarters on Stonecutters' Island on Sunday, with the stated aim of "encouraging young people to recognize the responsibilities and obligations of Chinese citizens."
Members of the voluntary corps aimed at university students will don PLA-style military uniforms, and receive "military and moral education," local media reported.
Politically sensitive time
Lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said the corps was being set up at a politically sensitive time, and questioned whether it was motivated by a need to indoctrinate young people in Hong Kong into mainland Chinese ideology.
"The fact that they have set this up will make people think of brainwashing," Ip told RFA on Monday.
"I think that everyone will be very worried that they want to employ a disciplinarian model to change the thinking of young people in Hong Kong."
He said few details have emerged about the exact activities engaged in by the corps.
"But it seems that the aim is to solve the problems that have arisen over the political system between Hong Kong and the mainland," Ip said, adding: "There are many different views about what the concepts of political power, nationhood and the motherland actually mean, and people have different ideas about what belonging means."
Civic Party chairman Audrey Eu said it was hard to see how growing ties between local people and the PLA garrison could fail to work both ways.
"In the past, Hong Kong people would go there very seldom, and only make a brief visit, but now events are being held inside the garrison," Eu told RFA.
"If Hong Kong people are to start attending events there, then it's also likely that the PLA will become more involved in Hong Kong affairs," she said.
But secretary for home affairs Tsang Tak-sing said uniformed youth groups have existed in Hong Kong for years.
"This group was set up by a group of young people who participated in a military camp," Tsang told a local radio show on Monday. "The PLA will be helping them with their training, using its own facilities and equipment."
"These young people want to learn about the troops garrisoned here, which is a very different matter from [the PLA] interfering in Hong Kong's affairs," he said.
Civic Party lawmaker Kenneth Chan told government broadcaster RTHK that the corps violates Hong Kong's Garrison Law governing the behavior of the PLA in the city, warning that the government could face "legal consequences."
Under the terms of the 1997 handover, Hong Kong was promised the continuation of its traditional freedoms and independent judiciary for 50 years.
Earlier this month, Chinese officials hit out at a lack of "patriotism" in Hong Kong's education system as a major factor behind the Occupy Central movement, reigniting a heated debate over Beijing's shelved "patriotic education" proposals for schoolchildren in the former British colony.
Former diplomat and government adviser Chen Zuo'er said the authorities should take steps to prevent "noxious weeds" from coming through the system, lamenting a lack of nationalistic felling among the semiautonomous territory's young people.
Hong Kong student groups played a leading role in the Umbrella Movement, which camped out on major roads and intersections amid an ongoing civil disobedience campaign for more than two months beginning on Sept. 28.
In 2013, they came out in force to protest plans to include "patriotic education" and Beijing-approved textbooks in Hong Kong classrooms. The plans have since been shelved.
Reported by Dai Weisen for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.