Hong Kong soccer fans vow to defy new Chinese law on national anthem
Some questioned the practicality of legislation and how it would be enforced
Some young Hong Kong soccer fans vowed on Saturday to defy a new Chinese law that would eventually apply in the city and criminalise disrespect for the national anthem with stiff penalties for offenders.
“I won’t stand up [when the national anthem is played ahead of a soccer match], because I do not have a sense of belonging [to China],” 24-year-old editor Ricky Wong Ka-ki said.
Speaking after an annual soccer match between Hong Kong and Macau, Wong said he would continue to be defiant even after the law was passed in Hong Kong.
The mainland law, which was passed by the National People’s Congress on Friday, requires attendees to stand up at events where the anthem is played, and remain solemn for the song. It also bars the use of the anthem, March of the Volunteers, in commercial advertisements or at private memorial services.
Offenders in mainland China could face 15 days in police detention. Violations could also be dealt with under other laws.
Wong said he believed the law would be “impractical” as it would be difficult to define what counted as a breach of solemnity.
“You can’t force people to identify with you,” he said. “I think it’s very unreasonable to force Hongkongers to be patriotic.”
The Hong Kong-Macau Interport – an annual association soccer match – at Sham Shui Po Sports Ground did not play the anthem before the match, which saw the home team win 4 goals to 0.
Kenny Tam, a 30-year-old office worker, said he worried that the “unnecessary” law would deprive Hong Kong of freedom of expression.
Tam, who also vowed not to stand up for the anthem, questioned the definition of disrespectful actions.
“For example, if I translate the lyrics faithfully into Thai and sing the Thai version, will I breach the law?” he asked.
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But former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing called on the public to have more faith in the administration over the local legislation of the law, saying freedom of expression would not be compromised.
His remarks came after officials said the legislation would be inserted into the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, as early as next month. This would be followed by work to formulate the local legislation with legal clauses that were “as clear as possible”, justice minister Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said on Friday.
On Saturday, Tsang said all criminal acts must be defined accurately and appropriately.
“There is no way someone would ‘easily’ violate the law or violate it without intention,” he said.
He said it was “ridiculous” that critics had suggested the law would be violated by anyone who failed to stand straight as the anthem played.
Tsang stressed that freedom of expression was safeguarded in the Basic Law, and the public should have more trust in the government and lawmakers.
Lawmaker and executive councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, speaking at another event, also urged people not to be overly concerned.
“No doubt that there will be a debate on whether the new legislation would affect freedom of expression and creativity, but I believe in due course, the local legislation would follow the principles and formats of the existing National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance,” Ip said.
Under Hong Kong’s flag and emblem law referred to by Ip, it is an offence to desecrate the national flag or national emblem, and any violation would result in a fine of HK$50,000 and imprisonment for three years.
She also expressed doubt over the need to launch a public consultation over the new anthem law – a call by many pro-democratic lawmakers.
Ip said public hearings in Legco would be enough to consider various opinions.