Lam: HK will 'fearlessly take action' against independence talk

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HONG KONG: Hong Kong will "fearlessly take action" against independence calls and protect China's interests, leader Carrie Lam said yesterday.

Mrs Lam's annual policy address came as her government stood accused of attacking press freedoms for barring a Financial Times (FT) journalist from working in Hong Kong after he chaired a talk by independence activist Andy Chan.

Any talk of independence incenses Beijing.

"I will not tolerate any acts that advocate Hong Kong's independence and threaten the country's sovereignty, security and development interests," Mrs Lam told legislators.

"We will fearlessly take action against such acts according to the law in order to safeguard the interests of the country and Hong Kong."

Before the speech began, pro-democracy lawmakers were escorted from the chamber after shouting "Protect press freedom" and waving placards.

Hong Kong is governed under a semi-autonomous One Country, Two Systems set-up, with freedoms that are protected by a 50-year agreement made when Britain handed the city back to China in 1997.

But there are concerns those rights are under threat.

Mrs Lam repeatedly emphasised the notion of One Country in her speech and made no reference to freedom of expression and of the press, a departure from last year's address when she described those rights as "constitutional bulwarks".

Mrs Lam and her government have refused to explain why the city denied a visa to the FT's Asia news editor Victor Mallet.

Beijing regularly denies visas to foreign journalists in China, but it has not been a tactic used in Hong Kong.

The move has sparked considerable disquiet and anger among the city's legal, business and media sectors and calls for explanation from governments around the world including Britain and the US.

Mr Chan's tiny party has been banned since his press club talk in August on the grounds that it is a national security threat, the first such ban since 1997.

Mrs Lam said the ban was a "strong testimony" that the government will use existing laws to suppress independence activism until the controversial anti-subversion law Article 23 is introduced. Article 23 is part of Hong Kong's mini-constitution but has never been implemented due to public fears it would curtail freedoms.

Mrs Lam has long said it is Hong Kong's constitutional responsibility to introduce the law and added yesterday the government would continue to "create a favourable social environment" for the legislation.

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Legislative Council building ahead of the speech, protesting against a range of issues including pension reform and expensive infrastructure projects. - AFP