Hong Kong leader returns Cambridge fellowship over rights row

© Agence France-Presse

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the college was Lam said she was 'smearing a person on the basis of hearsay instead of facts'

Hong Kong (AFP) - Hong Kong's leader says she has "returned" her honorary fellowship to a Cambridge college after a row over whether the finance hub's academic freedoms are being suppressed as authorities crack down on pro-democracy opponents.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she was cutting ties with Cambridge's Wolfson College after it began looking into the state of academic liberty in Hong Kong.

Lam said she was "deeply disappointed by the college smearing a person on the basis of hearsay instead of facts".

"Therefore I can hardly convince myself to maintain any relation with Wolfson College," she wrote on Facebook late Saturday alongside a photo of herself in leafy Cambridge.

Wolfson College said it had recently raised concerns with Hong Kong's leader about "her commitment to the protection of human rights and the freedom of expression".

Its governing body had been due to consider Lam's fellowship next month but would no longer do so now that Lam had returned the honour.

Lam, a pro-Beijing appointee, was one of a number of Chinese and Hong Kong officials sanctioned by the United States after Beijing imposed a sweeping security law on the semi-autonomous city in late June.

The law ramps up the Chinese Communist Party's control over the finance hub and in the weeks that followed some two dozen pro-democracy supporters have been arrested under the new powers, including the owner of a Beijing-critical newspaper.

Others have been disqualified from standing in local elections while libraries and schools have begun pulling any books deemed to breach the law.

Three well-known academics also lost their jobs because they had been previously jailed for leading pro-democracy protests.

Hong Kong has some of Asia's best universities, but declining political freedoms have rattled many as China vows to rein in campuses and instil more patriotic education.

Wolfson College had been under pressure to rescind Lam's honorary fellowship since last year.

In November three members of Britain's House of Lords called for the move over Lam's response to months of huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.

Beijing introduced its security law to end that movement and restore stability, describing it as a "sword" hanging over the heads of its critics in the city.

In her Facebook statement, Lam -- who previously studied at Cambridge University -- said she had written to Wolfson College last year and last week to explain her administration's stance on the protests.

She denied suppressing freedoms.

"Regarding such groundless accusations, I wanted to dismiss them with a laugh," she wrote.