“I want him to grow up in an environment with enough freedom to do what he wants to do and not be restricted by some invisible threat,” said Sarah, who requested CNN use a pseudonym for fear of being targeted by authorities.
In June, Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong that bans secession, subversion, terrorist activities and collusion with foreign powers. The law was passed to quell the pro-democracy movement that destabilized the financial hub last year, but its reach went far beyond policing protests to criminalizing certain conversations, political positions, publications and even social media posts.
In Hong Kong’s classrooms, it is now unclear what can legally be taught or discussed.
The Education Bureau has ordered schools to remove books and teaching materials that could violate the law. Administrators can call the police if someone insults the Chinese anthem, which must be played in schools on certain holidays. In September, a student who displayed a photo with the slogan “Free Hong Kong, Revolution Now” during class was suspended for a week.
Sarah’s move isn’t just for her son: she is a teacher in Hong Kong. The English Schools Foundation, an international education organization, released new guidelines in September for teachers, seen by CNN, which concluded that the classroom “is not a safe space” for discussion or debate.
It advised teachers to “always be aware of how what you are teaching could be interpreted/misinterpreted by others.” The former Chief Executive of Hong Kong has even posted on his Facebook page personal details of teachers charged over professional misconduct during the protest last year.
In Hong Kong, Sarah owns an apartment and a car — both rare privileges in a city where buying a home is expensive and taking public transport is the norm. But she’s prepared to give it all up for an uncertain life away from family and friends.
“We will do any kind of job. Be a cleaner, do the dishes, be a cashier,” she said. “Because it’s the value we place on the freedom that’s more important than the materialistic life we have.”
“We are sacrificing a lot to move. It will be expensive,” she said. “We want our children to study in a country that offers more freedom.”
Authorities did not give details about the classroom discussion, but local media reported that the teacher showed students a TV documentary, featuring pro-independence figure Andy Chan. They were then asked to answer questions from a worksheet about freedom of speech and proposals for Hong Kong independence. In response to the incident,…