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Hong Kong Basic Law

What will get Hongkongers into trouble under national anthem law? Government called on for details

Pan-democrats call for public consultation, but pro-Beijinger says it would be impractical to consult on every detail

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 November, 2017, 10:33am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 November, 2017, 10:33am

Pro-democracy lawmakers have criticised the lack of clarity over the incoming law against disrespecting the national anthem, and called on the government to spell out how it will be enforced.

They also demanded a full public consultation on the law. But a pro-Beijing politician said it would be impractical to consult on every last detail.

The standing committee of the National People’s Congress on Saturday inserting the anthem law into a list of mainland laws to be enforced in the city. The city government now has to pass a local law to that effect.

The move to protect the anthem will be of particular importance to fans of the Hong Kong soccer team, some of whom regularly boo March of the Volunteers when it plays before their team’s matches.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung on Saturday did not make any promises to hold a public consultation. He said the government would draft the local version of the National Anthem Law and table it at the Legislative Council as soon as possible. Cheung said going before Legco was a way to listen to public views.

But pan-democratic legislators highlighted ambiguities in the law and how it would be applied in the city.

In recent days, Basic Law Committee chair Li Fei was quoted as saying it would be disrespectful for spectators to stay seated when the anthem plays at racecourses, and Ip Kwok-him, a local deputy to China’s top legislative body, said people would have to stop walking and stand still when the anthem plays in public.

Watch: How well do Hongkongers know their national anthem?

Pan-democrats said the government should clarify if the examples given by Li and Ip were accurate reflections of what was in store. They said the remarks highlighted the need for a proper consultation.

Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu pressed the government to launch a full consultation and provide guidelines on how the law would be enforced, to soothe public concerns.

“Is there a difference between a public and private sphere? Or between official and non-official circumstances? If no, does it mean every customer in a restaurant has to stand up when the anthem is played on TV?” he asked.

The barrister noted that the ordinance would not be written in detail, so it was even more important for the government to list different scenarios and state its enforcement principles in a consultation paper.

Democratic Party legislator James To Kun-sun agreed, saying some “grey areas” had to be cleared up.

“Do people outside Victoria Park have to stand still when the song is played inside during an official event?” he asked, by way of example.

But pro-Beijing lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun said it was difficult to consult the public over the definition of some moral terms, like “disrespect” and “insult”.

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

“If many people think a cross-handed signal does not constitute an insult, does that mean it is not?” she asked.

It would be up to courts to decide, Leung said, saying intention and reasonable defence would be taken into account.

She said it was impracticable to list all the scenarios that might land people in trouble, saying the ordinance would only be written in general terms, with reference to the national flag and national emblem laws.