Academic Benny Tai responds to backlash over independence comments

Prominent liberal academic Benny Tai says he fears for the future of fear speech in Hong Kong after being slammed by a wave of backlash for comments suggesting the city could one day become independent.

Tai, a leader of the 2014 Occupy Movement and professor at Hong Kong University, made the comments last month at a forum in Taiwan.

He suggested that, hypothetically, Hong Kong could consider becoming independent should China become democratic, according to RTHK.

Since then, he has been rebuked by Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and the Hong Kong government, which said it was “shocked” by what it characterized as “independence advocacy”; slammed by mainland publications; and condemned by pro-establishment lawmakers, with some pushing HKU to take action.

According to RTHK, Tai said he did not support Hong Kong independence and was only exploring options should China become democratic.

The vehement response, he said, suggested Hong Kong’s government may raise the baseline for Article 23, controversial national security legislation that Beijing is pushing the city to adopt, in order to target, not just violence, but also speech.

He likened the attacks to the type of public shaming that occurred during China’s Cultural Revolution, saying they aimed to stifle opposition to the establishment.

“It is a calculated plot against me … to [declare] that any discussion on Hong Kong independence – albeit not directly endorsing [the notion] – would not be allowed in society and universities,” Tai told Commercial Radio, according to the SCMP.

According to the newspaper, Tai said he saw no reason to apologize for the remarks, which he argued had been taken out of context.

Today, a group of about 100 protesters arrived at Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong to voice their support for Tai, according to Apple Daily.

Protesters chanted “support Benny Tai,” “an attack against Benny Tai is an attack against us,” and “long live freedom of speech.”

Speaking to reporters outside the liaison office, Tai said he was “pleasantly surprised to see so many people,” adding “the people here are not just supporting me, but also supporting freedom of speech in Hong Kong.”

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