Three years' jail pushed for anthem abuse - $50,000 fine also included in proposals for new law

Top News | Phoenix Un 9 Mar 2018

Three years in jail and a maximum fine of HK$50,000 await anyone who degrades the national anthem. These are the main points of an anthem law now under consideration.

And the anthem will also be introduced into the school curriculum.

Sources say the government will submit a paper to the Legislative Council on the anthem law next week, with the first reading in July, before the summer recess.

The law was legislated and implemented on the mainland last year, and was put into the Basic Law's annex III. These laws apply locally by promulgation or legislation by the SAR.

The SAR government has opted for local legislation to meet the situation in Hong Kong.

Sources said the government will consider stating in the law that schools have to include the national anthem into their curriculum, but violation of this section is not likely to end in punishment.

The bill would state that the anthem should be played on occasions like flag-raising ceremonies on National Day, October 1, and the handover anniversary on July 1.

People at the scene should stand straight and behave solemnly, and anybody intentionally degrading the anthem would face criminal punishment.

The government will propose a similar punishment to that for degrading the national flag and emblem, whose maximum penalty is a fine of HK$50,000 and three years in jail.

Sources said booing the anthem before football matches of Hong Kong team would fall within the regulation because the anthem is played in public space.

The law would also state where the national anthem should not be played, such as at funerals.

How satire of the anthem would be handled is also up for discussion, but whether the satires would be criminal would depend on whether they were in public places.

Hong Kong netizens have been rewriting the lyrics of the anthem, and some people have sung them and put them on websites.

Executive Council member Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a senior counsel, said it would be easy for society to reach consensus on how "degrading" should be defined. He believed any rewriting or replacing the lyrics with insulting wordings should fall within the definition.

Tong also believed the law should prohibit any satirical or commercial use for the anthem.

Local delegate of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Starry Lee Wai-king believes the law is now ready to be made.

"The discussion about the legislation has gone on for a long time, so I believe people have enough knowledge about the law, and we can take reference from that of our country," Lee said.

But legislator Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu believes the government should start a public consultation to clarify the meaning of degrading.

"Many behaviors could fall within the range of degrading, such as not standing straight or singing off key, and whether anything is degrading is very subjective especially when it comes to law enforcement," Yeung said.

National People's Congress local deputy Wong Yuk-shan, president of the Open University, supported including anthem education into the school curriculum. "It's natural for our youngsters to sing the anthem because Hong Kong is a part of China," he said.

But the chairwoman of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, Lee Suet-ying, doubted the effect of putting anthem education into the law.

"Laws are not moral standards; they act to regulate people's behavior. If something is written in the law but there is no punishment, what's the difference from not including it?" Lee said.

Schools have already been teaching students to sing the anthem, as well as the history behind it.

Legislator Ip Kin-yuen for the education sector said: "I am inclined to believe that the school curriculum should be regulated by guidelines of the Education Bureau instead of laws, matching normal practice in Hong Kong."

The Legco panel on constitutional affairs will discuss the legislation on March 23.

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