Hong Kong moves to criminalize insults to Chinese national anthem

The controversial law prescribes jail time and fines for those who disrespect the Chinese national anthem. It has sparked concerns about the growing curbs on freedom of expression in the semi-autonomous city.

A new bill criminalizing disrespect of the Chinese national anthem was introduced in Hong Kong Wednesday.

When it passes later this year, the so-called "National Anthem Law" penalizes those who “publicly and intentionally insult” the anthem, March of the Volunteers, with a maximum fine of HK$50,000 (€5,600) and three years jail time.

Pro-democracy activist group Demosisto tied a banner to the flagpoles of the Hong Kong Legislative Council building as the bill was being read out for the first time.

Pro-Beijing demonstrators held banners reading "Safeguard national dignity" and "Support the national anthem law".

Asia | 01.10.2014

The bill is expected to pass later this year as there isn’t enough opposition in the chamber to rule it down.

It will likely end booing of the anthem at large football matches, a practice which has emerged as a means of protest following the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement.

It will also make it mandatory for all school children to learn the anthem, including those who attend international schools.

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Protesters took the streets in protest during the so-called Umbrella Movement.

Crackdown on dissidents

Chinese authorities have clamped down on pro-democracy demonstrations in recent years.

Last September, the government banned the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP). Its leader, Andy Chan, was disqualified from running for elections, officials insisting that advocating for independence goes against the territory’s Basic Law.

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Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam shakes hands with President Xi Jinping, shortly after she swears an oath of office at the 20th anniversary of the city's handover to Chinese rule.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned against threats to the authority of Beijing. He has vowed to stop separatist movements from violating territorial integrity, saying he "will never allow any person, any group, any political party" divide the country.

Read more: Xi warns of ‘read line’ as Hong Kong marks 20 years under China

One country, two systems

Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 after 99 years under British colonial rule. The "one country, two systems" principle underpins the reunification process and allows the territory relative autonomy in the 50 year transition period.

But more than 20 years into the process, critics are concerned Chinese authorities are already tightening their grip on political and social life.

Read more: Hong Kong's 20 years under Chinese rule - a failed project?

In 2012, a report on freedom of the press in Hong Kong showed it had deteriorated alarmingly, with five journalists detained by police "without concrete evidence".

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Hong Kong Umbrella Movement activists go on trial

Last year, veteran British journalist Victor Mallet, had his visa renewal application rejected and was asked to leave Hong Kong within the week. British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt described the move as "politically motivated", Mallet having hosted a pro-independence activist at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) in Beijing.

The Umbrella Movement which erupted in 2014 saw thousands take to the streets to protest the announcement that Beijing would vet all Hong Kong candidates seeking election.

nn/rt (Reuters/DPA)