Hong Kong Basic Law

Hongkongers will not be arrested for refusing to stand for national anthem, government adviser says

Executive Councillor Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun comments after China’s top legislative body on Saturday imposed a national anthem law on Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 November, 2017, 8:51pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 November, 2017, 1:45am

A policy adviser to the Hong Kong government has said she does not believe authorities will arrest people for not standing for the Chinese national anthem, but she said respecting the song was a basic behaviour that everyone should follow.

Executive Councillor Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun was speaking a day after China’s top legislative body on Saturday imposed a national anthem law on Hong Kong in a bid to curb acts that challenge the “bottom line of ‘one country, two systems’”, imposing the threat of prison terms for abuse of the song.

While the Hong Kong government has said it will adopt the national law through local legislation, it has so far refused to commit to appeals by pan-democrats for a proper consultation to address concerns over details like what constitutes disrespectful behaviour.

The secretary for home affairs, Lau Kong-wah told reporters initially on Sunday that the government had said clearly that a “consultation” would be conducted – but the transcript of his answer later issued by the government was supplemented with the words “listen to views” in brackets, casting doubt over the possibility of a formal consultation.

Under the national law, everyone must stand solemnly when the anthem is played. Anyone who maliciously modifies the lyrics, or plays or sings the song in “a distorted or disrespectful way in public”, can be detained for up to 15 days in “administrative detention” by police using the law, or imprisoned for three years under the criminal code.

Exco member Ip Kwok-him, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress, previously said on Saturday that Hongkongers would have to stop walking and stand still whenever the national anthem plays.

Basic Law Committee head Li Fei was quoted as saying on Thursday that spectators who remain seated when the national anthem plays at Hong Kong racecourses would be regarded as showing disrespect.

Asked on a Commercial Radio programme on Sunday whether residents could easily find themselves in trouble, Law said: “There is no need to look at it in such an extreme way.Neither do I think the government will just arrest you and take you to prison just because you didn’t stand up [for the national anthem]”.

As to how one should behave in different settings, she said people should be able to use their own instincts and adapt.

“There’s no way there can be a law that can cover every single scenario and written in such specifics.”

Law also said respecting the anthem was a “basic behaviour and respect that everyone should have.

“With legislation, it will just make everyone understand how important this is; it instils a sense of dignity and solemnity,” she added.

Separately, speaking on RTHK’s TV programme City Forum, pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a legal academic at City University, said while the national law required people in a public “venue to stand solemnly when the national anthem is being played”, officials and lawmakers should discuss ways to clearly define the phrase “in the venue” to alleviate public fears.

Gamblers attending the racing at Sha Tin racecourse on Sunday had mixed views over how they should behave when the anthem law is extended to the city.

A man, who would only give his surname as Jong, thought the rule is an infringement of his freedom.

“I respect the anthem, but to stand or not is my personal choice,” he said.

He said he never stood when the anthem is played at the racecourse, which happens two to three times a year during international races.

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“I won’t stand even if the law comes into effect in the future … I’m sure many others won’t [stand] either.”

Alan Lam, a 20-year-old engineering student at the Institute of Vocational Education, said the law was “nonsense”.

“How are we supposed to stop and stand still when we’re on the streets?” He said, referring to scenarios where the anthem is played over outdoor TV screens.

Philip Payne, who is visiting from Australia, believes there is no such law in his home country.

“We always stand during the national anthem. It’s a gesture that we do out of respect,” he said.

But Alpha Chung, a 30-year punter at the races, did not see the law as controversial.

“We are Chinese people after all,” he said.

“You don’t have to stand still and straight, but, but you should never play petty tricks,” he added, referring to boos and other gestures of disapproval.

Michael Cheung, a retiree, supports the legislation but feels there are too many uncertainties at this stage.

“I support [the law] and would follow the rules. But how do you execute it?”