Retroactive effect for anthem law needed if Hong Kong pan-dems drag Legco debate, Rita Fan says
Leading pro-Beijing figure dismisses need for public consultation and says, without penalties, disrespect may continue while lawmakers filibuster
The proposed law criminalising disrespect for the national anthem in Hong Kong would apply retroactively if there were “sufficient reasons”, a pro-establishment political heavyweight said on Sunday.
Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, the city’s sole representative on the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), said such an effect would be warranted if pan-democratic lawmakers resorted to filibustering tactics over the legislation.
If the debate on the bill were dragged out, Fan said, local residents might continue booing the anthem in the absence of any punishment before the law took effect.
“It is not surprising that the opposition camp might stage a filibuster to drag [the debate on the national anthem bill] for months. It is under such circumstances that someone floated the question of whether the law should apply retroactively,” Fan said on a TVB talk show.
“If [the lawmakers] could scrutinise the bill in a normal manner, perhaps this measure would not have to be considered so seriously.”
The law had to be applied retroactively if there were sufficient reasons, she argued.
“I dare not say [the law] would definitely have no retroactive effect as it would depend on the circumstances. It needs to be applied retroactively if there are sufficient reasons.”
Fan said the anthem law was expected to be inserted into Annexe III of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, during the NPCSC meeting this month. Hong Kong authorities would then start the legislative process to spell out how the mainland law would be applied locally.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor earlier came under fire for comparing the retroactive effect of the anthem law to an amendment bill for stamp duty. Legal scholars argued that criminal laws under the common law system should not be applied in such a manner.
Fan expressed no concern that a retroactive law might be counterproductive to mending ties between the government and pan-democrats. She also ruled out the need for a public consultation on the bill.
“The national anthem is the icon of a country, similar to that of the national flag and emblem. There is nothing much to consult,” she said, adding that pan-democrats would oppose the bill regardless of poll results.
Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, a barrister, believed Fan should not inject political considerations into a legislative debate.
“Fan, as the former president of the Legislative Council, should have the experience and wisdom to know that retroactivity does not exist for criminal laws in the common law system,” he said. “It is a non-issue.”
Yeung also slammed Fan for dismissing the need for public consultation.
“Hong Kong is protected by the Bill of Rights Ordinance and also enjoys freedom of speech. Do we really need no consultation to map out how to strike a balance between public interests and the dignity of the national anthem?”