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Hong Kong principals, teachers could be liable for students’ national security law violations if they fail to intervene

June 15, 2021

Original Article: https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/education/article/3120664/principals-teachers-could-be-liable-students-national

Principals and teachers can be held responsible if they ignore or fail to stop violations of the national security law by their pupils, Hong Kong’s education minister has said in explaining controversial new guidelines for schools covering the Beijing-imposed legislation.
 
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung on Friday also said that while the new guidelines called for schools to inform police when serious protest-related activities occurred on campus, teachers were the first line of defence in defusing potential issues.
 
Yeung’s remarks came a day after his bureau issued a set of documents on the security law covering everything from school management and curriculum to students’ behaviour and the responsibilities of faculty in relation to the law.
 
The new guidelines follow the arrest of thousands of students for illegal assembly and street violence during the months-long anti-government protests that started in June 2019, and the implementation of the national security law on June 30.
 
Pupils as young as six are to learn the law’s basic concepts as well as the names of its four designated offences – subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces – while schools are to call police over “grave or emergency” situations such as pupils chanting or displaying slogans, singing political songs or forming human chains.
 
“In scenarios where pupils’ chant slogans or their activities are clearly endangering national security, if schools are aware [of their responsibilities] and yet do not take any action, they would then be not doing their part … under the guidelines and the law,” Yeung told a radio programme on Friday.
 
He said inaction was the equivalent of giving consent for pupils to continue their acts.
 
“Whether [school staff] would bear any legal responsibility would depend on the evidence available and the court’s decision. But it’s obvious that if they know what to do but choose not to do it, that is clearly problematic,” he added.
He also reiterated that the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times”, chanted frequently amid the 2019 unrest, was banned on campuses, as the government had deemed it a separatist slogan.
 
Even when pupils in uniform form human chains outside school gates – and therefore are not technically on campus – administrators still had a responsibility to prevent it from happening, he said.
 
Under the new guidelines, schools are advised to intervene and stop any activities that involve political propaganda, but can choose to consult police community relations officers about acts they suspect are illegal before calling the force.
 
Yeung on Friday said that consulting police community officers “did not necessarily mean” pupils would be arrested.
 

“Even when schools [consulted] police, I believe the force’s handling is not absolutely rigid … There can be softer ways of approaching [the problem],” he said.

“No one would want to arrest all [pupils].”

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