Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, condemned on Friday the "Hong Kong independence" slogans that were displayed in the city's universities, adding that such remarks were in violation of the country's sovereignty, territorial integrity and development interests.
"'Hong Kong independence' runs against the 'one country, two systems' principle and the Basic Law as well as the overall and long-term interest of society," Lam said.
Lam also denounced a poster at the Education University of Hong Kong that gloated over the death of the son of the city's undersecretary for education. She said such remarks were "entirely disrespectful, against the moral values of society and coldblooded".
Lam, describing the incidents at the universities as "having overstepped the bottom line of society", said that freedom of speech had its limits and academic independence should not be used as an excuse to advocate fallacies.
She said university administrations should take timely and appropriate action to handle the incidents and appealed to society to join forces to "rectify such abuses of freedom of speech" while safeguarding the city's core values and defending moral standards.
Lam made the remarks one day after a group of Chinese University of Hong Kong students and alumni voiced strong objections to the university student union's separatist advocacy on campus.
Slogans that advocated "Hong Kong independence" were spotted in various locations inside the campus after the new semester started, and were soon removed by school authorities.
Offensive posters also were found on a public billboard at the Education University of Hong Kong ridiculing the death of Undersecretary for Education Christine Choi Yuk-lin's son, who died after jumping off a high-rise in Jordan, Kowloon, around noon on Thursday.
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung also said displays in public areas should be "morally sound and legal".
He noted that the Education Bureau is against the "independence" fallacies and students should not waste time discussing such issues because they are against the Basic Law.
The city's education head also stressed that moral and legal considerations should be taken into account when people exercise freedom of speech.
The city's academics and lawyers also expressed strong criticism over the illegal and insensitive remarks that appeared at universities.
Lau Siu-kai, sociologist and former top adviser to the Hong Kong SAR government, said some of the students took advantage of the tolerant and relatively relaxed environment on campus to advocate illegal fallacies or taunting messages that crossed the line for society, messages that would in turn backfire.
"Giving students a more tolerant environment doesn't mean that there is no bottom line, no matter if it is morally or politically," Lau said.
Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a Hong Kong lawmaker and lawyer, said universities have the "ultimate duty or liability" for excluding illegal posters advocating separatism on campus.