Hong Kong educators warn of a chilling effect after a teacher was barred from teaching for life after allegedly using materials touching on local independence.

In an unprecedented move, education authorities deregistered a teacher at Alliance Primary School accused of spreading pro-independence messages in a case dating back to early last year. The decision was made despite the teacher having been cleared by an internal investigation at the private school. The teacher planned lessons requiring students to spend 50 minutes studying the banned pro-independence Hong Kong National Party – and watch a documentary featuring the party’s convener – as well as the city’s Societies Ordinance. Students were also told to discuss independence in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan.

The decision marks the first time a teacher’s license has been revoked by the education bureau due to classroom materials, and has exacerbated concerns over education freedom in the semi-autonomous territory following the passing of a controversial national security law in June. While the case took place prior to the new law – which criminalizes advocating for independence and has no retroactive effect, according to authorities – officials say the teacher’s actions still violate the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.
“The situation has deteriorated very quickly. Most teachers have not foreseen this,” said Raymond Yeung, a 30-year-old educator who taught at an elite secondary school before resigning earlier this year. He was blinded in one eye by an alleged police projectile during last year’s protests. “We used to believe we still have protections from the chaotic situation in the political sector. (Now) I think there is a red line, which would be national security. You can see they’re trying to use whatever means to impose this. To be frank, I’m afraid too.”Last week, more than 20,000 teachers, students, and parents took part in an email campaign protesting the decision, calling it “political suppression.” The city’s largest teachers’ union has also accused officials of carrying out an unfair investigation. Yet Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam defended the bureau’s move, saying the teacher was disqualified following a “thorough probe” and vowing to “weed out the bad apples” from the sector. Chinese state media outfit People’s Daily also supported the decision in a commentary last Thursday, slamming the “poison of colonial education” in Hong Kong.

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