Hong Kong activists fear Chinese anthem law is latest curb on freedom

Imposing prison sentence for disrespecting the March of the Volunteers is a sign of creeping influence, campaigners say

Imagine singing God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols, and then being sentenced to 15 days in prison. That could become a reality in Hong Kong, where new laws may criminalise disrespecting the Chinese national anthem, the latest sign of Beijing’s creeping influence in the former British colony.

A new law set to be passed by China’s parliament would criminalise any action that mocks the national anthem with 15 days in jail. It places a host of restrictions on the song, March of the Volunteers, including barring it from use in advertisements, at funerals or as background music. Any alteration of the lyrics or parodies of the song would also be illegal.

It would also require Chinese citizens to stand up straight and “solemnly” when the anthem is played. After the law is passed in China, it will then be applied to Hong Kong, according to local media reports, the only place on Chinese soil that tolerates open dissent.

Hong Kong maintains separate laws from China and a semi-autonomous local legislature under an arrangement known as “one country, two system”, part of a deal with the UK when the city was handed back in 1997.

Politicians and activists in Hong Kong have responded to the law with deep concern.

“I worry the law will undermine our freedom of expression and infringe on our education system,” said Tanya Chan, a pro-democracy lawmaker.

Chan worries Hong Kong schools could become like those in China, where students are gathered every day to sing the anthem and salute the national flag. Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini constitution, education policy is set by the local government and previous attempts by the government to include patriotic elements into the curriculum were met with mass street protests.

“The anthem something very abstract, it’s music and lyrics and they can be interpreted in many different ways,” she added. “I don’t think strict rules on how someone should stand or how loudly they must sing are appropriate for Hong Kong.”

But questions remain over whether the law or its punishments would be legal in Hong Kong, which has a separate common law system.

“Much of the national anthem law’s content would be difficult to implement in Hong Kong,” Dennis Kwok, an MP representing the legal profession, said on a local radio programme. “For example, it allows up to 15 days of administrative detention, but we have no such thing.”

Chief executive Carrie Lam dismissed concerns over the proposed legislation, saying “society should not be overly sensitive”.

“This particular matter of national anthem legislation does not carry any particular scope for politicisation,” Lam said at a press conference.

Hong Kong football fans may be some of the first to test the new law. In 2015, in the wake of 12 weeks of pro democracy street protests, fans booed and jeered the national anthem during a World Cup qualifier.

Fifa fined the city’s football association, but fans were not deterred and continued mocking the anthem at matches.


Benjamin Haas in Hong Kong

The GuardianTramp

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