HONG KONG (AFP) - A Hong Kong student leader has been declared an "enemy of the people" by Chinese state media for speaking out over a new law against disrespecting the national anthem, in what critics say is another attack on freedom of speech in the city.
The vilification of the 21-year-old comes as concern grows there is no longer room for open political debate in Hong Kong under pressure from Beijing.
Alice Cheung, head of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, was surrounded by security officers during a meeting at the city's legislative council last week seeking citizens' views on the controversial new law, which opponents say could pave the way for political prosecutions.
Cheung told the committee meeting she wanted "to vomit" every time she heard the national anthem.
Hong Kong does not have its own anthem so China's is played to represent it at events.
"It is proof that this murderous regime still exists and holds power," she added.
Since then she has felt the full force of Chinese state and social media, which have labelled her an independence activist.
"My family are worried about me," she told AFP. "I feel under pressure".
The city is obliged to introduce its own version of the mainland's anthem law which was fine-tuned last year and upped punishment to three years' imprisonment.
Football fans have regularly booed and turned their backs when it is played to represent the Hong Kong team at matches.
After Cheung's original comments she was later told by the pro-Beijing committee chairman that she could not speak again, but did so anyway saying others had been given more time to put their views forward.
She was surrounded by security and voluntarily left the room with the chairman accusing her of causing "chaos".
'ENEMY OF THE CHINESE PEOPLE'
Her comments were widely shared on the mainland. A commentator on the website of state broadcaster CCTV said such acts must be met with a "resolute crackdown".
"The separatism advocated by the 'Hong Kong independence camp' is unpopular and they will certainly become the enemy of the Chinese people and the laughing stock of history," the article read.
Cheung told AFP she had received dozens of hostile messages on Facebook in the last few days.
"A few randomly asked me: 'Do you know everyone in China hates you?' Or, 'Do you know people in the mainland all want to attack you?' she recounted.
"(A public hearing) shouldn't be a high-pressure venue where after you've spoken you will be framed as the enemy of the people," she added.
Hong Kong's mini-constitution safeguards freedom of speech but the prosecution of pro-democracy activists and the barring of some from running for office has stoked fears those liberties are under threat.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Gary Fan, who was at the committee meeting and was also removed for shouting, told AFP Monday the legislature's power to monitor the government was "being crippled".
The Legislative Council did not immediately respond to AFP's request for comment.