Explainer: Hong Kong’s to-do list now that it must pass a national anthem law locally

A list of pressing issues the city must address for the law to be adopted locally

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 November, 2017, 9:48pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 November, 2017, 10:26am

In its bid to rein in Hongkongers’ jeering of the national anthem, Beijing seeks to impose a stiffer penalty on those found to have acted disrespectfully while the tune is played.

With formal approval given by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) on Saturday, the mainland’s national anthem law is to be incorporated into Annexe III of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, and take effect across the city.

Explainer: what will China’s national anthem law mean for Hong Kong?

Here is an overview of issues Hong Kong must address for the law to be adopted locally.

How will the national law be enforced in Hong Kong?

According to Article 18 of the Basic Law, the national laws listed in Annexe III can be applied locally “by way of promulgation” or adapted to suit the city’s system. The Hong Kong government issued a statement on Saturday saying that it would adopt the national anthem law “by way of appropriate local legislation” consistent with the constitutional and legal regime of the city.

What penalties will be imposed in Hong Kong?

The national anthem law – approved at an NPCSC session in September and effective on the mainland since October 1 – states that anyone who maliciously modifies the lyrics, or plays or sings March of the Volunteers in “a distorted or disrespectful way in public” faces up to 15 day in administrative detention by police.

But the standing committee voted on Saturday to introduce an additional clause to the country’s criminal code to make abuse of the national anthem or flag punishable by up to three years in prison or a deprivation of political rights.

Basic Law Committee head Li Fei was quoted on Thursday as saying Hong Kong would legislate its own penalty. Hong Kong’s constitutional affairs minister, Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, has said the government would draw reference from the present National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance, which prescribes a maximum penalty of three years in jail and a fine of HK$50,000 for abuse of either of the symbols.

The new moves to protect the anthem could be of particular consequence for fans of Hong Kong’s soccer team, many of whom have booed the song before matches in recent years.

Will the local version of the national anthem legislation be retroactive?

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor raised concerns on October 17 when she said that “not many laws in Hong Kong are retroactive, but there are some with this effect”. But both local legal experts and pro-Beijing politicians in the city later said the new law was not expected to be applied retroactively here.

He Shaoren, spokesman for the NPCSC, said at a press conference on Saturday that the question would be a matter for the Hong Kong and Macau legislatures.

Watch: How well do Hongkongers know their national anthem?

What conduct would be regarded as violating the local law?

This will be clarified in the local legislation drafting process.

Li was quoted as saying spectators who remain seated when the national anthem plays at Hong Kong racecourses would be regarded as showing disrespect.

On Saturday, Hong Kong NPC deputy Ip Kwok-him said people would have to stop walking and stand still when the national anthem plays in public. He also suggested event organisers had to do a systematic review of when they would play the anthem.

Yet some lawmakers raised concerns that it was hard to draw a line. Pro-democracy lawmaker James To Kun-sun questioned whether people outside a stadium, for example, had to stand still when the song was played inside the venue.

Will Hongkongers be prosecuted for any insults directed at the anthem between now and when local legislation is enacted?

No. The Hong Kong government said the national law would not be enforced in Hong Kong immediately after being listed in Annexe III, but after the Legislative Council passes a local version of the legislation.

Will there be a public consultation? Must Hong Kong rush to pass local legislation within a specific time frame?

Officials have not said clearly whether the government faces a deadline. Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said on Saturday the government would seek to complete the legislative work as soon as possible, but the timetable would depend on when Legco could start scrutinising the local bill. The government said in a statement it would carefully consider the views of the public and legislators.