HK says disrespecting China's anthem could mean 3 years in jail

HONG KONG • Hong Kong has announced plans to punish anyone who disrespects the Chinese national anthem with up to three years' imprisonment as Beijing increases the pressure on the semi-autonomous city to fall into line.

Hong Kong has been preparing to introduce the controversial law since China fine-tuned legislation last year on the proper way and place to sing the anthem, tightening rules that already bar people from performing it at parties, weddings and funerals.

Changes to China's criminal law made last November increased the punishment for disrespecting the song from a jail term of 15 days to three years in serious cases.

Defiant Hong Kong football fans have booed the anthem at matches for years as concerns grow that the city's liberties are under threat.

Fans have also turned their backs and displayed Hong Kong independence banners during matches as some activists call for the city to split with the mainland, a notion that infuriates Beijing.

The city is expected to enact a local version of the mainland's anthem law after China in November inserted the legislation into Hong Kong's mini-constitution.

The proposal, submitted by the Hong Kong government to the city's legislature for advice yesterday, mirrors Beijing's penalty of prison time along with a fine of HK$50,000 (S$8,400).

Critics say that this is further evidence of a clampdown on the city's freedom of expression, after a raft of imprisonments of democracy activists and the disqualification of rebel lawmakers from the city's legislature.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo described the push as a "psychological weapon to dare (the crowds) to boo the national anthem" and to make residents "feel more Chinese rather than being (from) Hong Kong".

The fine and three-year jail term could apply to anyone who alters the lyrics of the anthem or who is judged to insult it, according to the proposal. The city's leader "shall prescribe the occasions where the national anthem must be performed and sung", it added.

Secondary and primary schools would be required to teach students to sing the anthem and to "understand its history and spirit".

The law, which is expected to pass, would need only a simple majority in the city's legislature, which is weighted towards the pro-Beijing establishment.

Lawmakers will meet to discuss the proposal on Friday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2018, with the headline 'HK says disrespecting China's anthem could mean 3 years in jail'. Print Edition | Subscribe