Hong Kong Moves to Criminalize Disrespect of China’s National Anthem

Opposition groups worry legislation is another sign of tightened civil liberties in the semi-autonomous city

The Wall Street Journal
Date: Jan. 9, 2019
By: Natasha Khan

Hong Kong fans turn their backs and boo during China’s national anthem at an Asian Cup preliminary match in 2017. PHOTO: BOBBY YIP/REUTERS

HONG KONG—Government officials plan to propose a law that would make disrespecting China’s national anthem a crime, raising concern within opposition ranks that it would further narrow freedoms in the semiautonomous Chinese city.

The bill, which will be introduced in the city’s pro-Beijing legislature Jan. 23 for passage by the summer, is modeled on a similar law in mainland China. Aside from providing guidance on etiquette when the national anthem is played, it also stipulates that primary and high school children—including in international schools—should be taught to sing the anthem and to learn its history.

Officials acted after fans at soccer games involving Hong Kong’s international representative team repeatedly booed the Chinese national anthem in the years after authorities quashed mass pro-democracy protests in 2014.

The bill lists specific acts that would carry a HK$50,000 ($6,400) fine and up to three years in prison. They include insulting the anthem—“March of the Volunteers”—in public, or playing and singing it in a distorted or disrespectful way. The penalties are similar to the ones in previous Hong Kong laws governing mistreatment of China’s flag.

The details of the bill released Wednesday are concerning to opposition lawmakers since one new requirement is that the anthem be played during their oath taking upon assuming legislative office. In the past, some pro-democracy lawmakers have used the moment to make a political stand of defiance against Beijing. Six legislators have been ousted for altering their oaths.

Hong Kong fans boo China’s national anthem at a World Cup qualifier. Video originally published Nov. 18, 2015.
“Hong Kong is supposed to come under the one country-two systems, but Beijing’s now making it increasingly clear that one country comes first,” said Claudia Mo, who plans to vote no on the bill. The bill is expected to pass as the pro-democracy bloc has weakened in the past few years while under attack by authorities and are in the minority in the city’s legislature.

The new law would extend the prosecution period to up to two years. Hong Kong officials said this would give police officers more time to investigate large crowds of unidentified possible violators or in cases involving social media, such as publishing an altered national anthem on YouTube.

In 2015, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, said it was investigating an incident where Hong Kong fans booed the Chinese national anthem before a World Cup qualifier, after issuing a warning to the Hong Kong Football Association. Fans booed at several more games through 2017.

In countries like the U.K. and Australia, there are protocols that provide guidance on behavior when national anthems are played, while there is a code in place in the U.S. Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers, started a movement in the American football preseason of 2016 by sitting and then kneeling during the national anthem to draw attention to social issues such as police brutality and racial inequality.

Other countries carry penalties for disrespecting the national anthem, for example in Singapore and Thailand.

“This is a symbol of the nation, one should respect the lyrics and the score,” Patrick Nip, the city’s Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, told reporters Wednesday. “You are still entitled by your views, but not in this way.”

The song, which plays before the news broadcast in Hong Kong as part of a broadcasting law, begins with the line, “Arise, all who refuse to be slaves!”

For others, it is another sign of tightened civil liberties in the city. In the past year, civic rights groups have lodged complaints against the proposed law, saying it could curb freedom of expression and education.

“This is just another nail in the coffin,“ said Jason Y. Ng, lawyer and author of several books on Hong Kong culture and politics.    [SOURCE]

Write to Natasha Khan at natasha.khan@wsj.com

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