Hongkongers must stand for national anthem even if local law not as severe as mainland China’s, senior Beijing official says
Basic Law Committee head Li Fei says attendees staying seated is disrespectful, according to local lawyers’ group
Spectators who remain seated when the national anthem plays at Hong Kong racecourses will be regarded as showing disrespect but may not face a three-year jail term that could be applicable in mainland China, a senior Beijing official was quoted as saying on Thursday.
Basic Law Committee head Li Fei offered the example to stress the importance of respect and solemnity in adopting the local version of the national law, even if it is not as severe, according to Lawrence Ma Yan-kwok, head of the pro-establishment lawyer group, CA Legal Exchange Foundation. Ma led a delegation from the group to meet Li in Beijing.
Hongkongers who boo national anthem could be charged even before local law is passed, Exco member warns
“Sometimes when the anthem is played at the Jockey Club, many people do not stand up,” he quoted Li as saying.
“This must change after the legislation comes into effect.”
China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, approved the National Anthem Law in September. It came into effect in mainland China at the beginning of October.
Under the new law, anyone who maliciously modifies the lyrics, or plays or sings March of the Volunteers in “a distorted or disrespectful way in public” can be detained for up to 15 days and face criminal charges. The NPCSC is already considering introducing a change in the country’s criminal code to increase the penalty to three years behind bars.
If the standing committee endorses a plan to introduce it into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution this Saturday, the city’s government will need to adopt a local version of the law.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club said it could not comment on Li’s reported remarks because there had been no official announcement.
But it said in a statement: “We would like to point out that at the National Day Cup meeting, the Reunification Cup meeting, the Hong Kong International Races meeting, and when a Hong Kong horse wins a race with international participation at the QEII Cup meeting, the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China is played and we always request racegoers to stand.”
Some mainland scholars have suggested the Hong Kong law should be no less severe than the mainland version due to sovereignty concerns.
But asked whether the official called for the city’s legislation to be as tough, Ma said: “Li did not mention [a penalty]. He said Hong Kong would legislate ‘on its own’.”
The lawyer said Li listed five basic elements of the law: the anthem must retain its melody; commercial use and parody are to be prohibited; one must stand solemnly when it is played; education about the anthem in primary and secondary schools is to be compulsory; and sanctions will apply to those who “bully” or disrespect the work.
As for what education should entail, Ma quoted him as saying: “China’s opposition to Japanese imperialism is integral to the history of the anthem.”
Li did not mention any need for the Hong Kong law to be retroactive, Ma added, noting such an effect appeared to be missing from the agenda of ongoing discussions of the NPCSC.
Earlier on Thursday, Executive Council member Ronny Tong Ka-wah said that once introduced into Annexe III of the Basic Law, the anthem legislation would theoretically “be a part of Hong Kong law”, meaning rule-breakers could be held liable.
But in response to an inquiry from the Post, a government spokeswoman said that was not the case.
“As national laws listed in Annexe III to the Basic Law shall be applied locally by way of promulgation or legislation by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the national anthem law cannot be applied in Hong Kong immediately after it is listed in the annexe,” she said.
The new law could be of particular consequence for a large contingent of fans of the Hong Kong soccer team, who routinely boo the anthem before matches.