Hong Kong national anthem law to punish only those who deliberately disrespect it, Carrie Lam says
City’s top official ‘can’t see’ freedom of expression fears as she reveals bill to be introduced during current Legislative Council term
Hong Kong’s top official on Tuesday said the city’s looming national anthem law would only seek to punish those who deliberately disrespect the song, and that there was no need to worry about breaking the law accidentally.
Following the decision on Saturday by China’s top legislative body to incorporate the mainland’s national anthem law into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she would pursue a bill on the matter at the Legislative Council within the present legislative term, or before next July.
“Any deliberate act to insult the anthem would be unacceptable, but we would also make sure that [the law] complies with the city’s constitutional and legal systems,” she said.
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The law – approved by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in September and brought into effect on the mainland from last month – was added to Annexe III of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law. This means the city’s administration must draft local laws against any abuse of the anthem, March of the Volunteers.
Lam said on Tuesday that her administration had begun work on the local version of the law.
Article 15 of the mainland law states that “anyone who plays or sings the anthem in a distorted or disrespectful way” can be prosecuted.
Asked whether Hongkongers’ freedom of expression and artistic creativity would be compromised under the legislation, Lam replied: “The law would only forbid the deliberate insulting of the playing and singing of the anthem. I can’t see how this could be related to the city’s freedoms in any way.
“It would be unnecessary to worry about falling into legal [traps] unintentionally.”
The chief executive said that in recent years “unnecessary words had been used to describe every affair involving Hong Kong and the mainland, and between the local and central governments, which had seemed to create fear in society”.
“I hope our local legislative work this time will not be interfered with again in such a manner,” she said.
Lam said she hoped Legco could “fulfil its constitutional responsibility” in discussing the matter and approving the bill “efficiently”.
The steps taken by Beijing have been widely viewed as targeting Hong Kong soccer team fans, who have routinely booed when March of the Volunteers is played before matches.
Pan-democratic lawmakers have been asking for a formal public consultation, urging the government to draft the local law from scratch to ensure it does not infringe on individual liberties.
But Lam would not commit to such an approach, saying only: “During the legislative process, there will be discussions and certain consultations in society.”
Her remarks came a day after her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying, now vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, questioned why some students and school chiefs had not been “handled” for disrespecting the anthem or allowing such acts during graduation ceremonies.
At a seminar organised by the Beijing-friendly Hong Kong Development Forum on Monday, Leung said some people had raised umbrellas when the anthem played during graduation ceremonies.
“It seemed no one handled those students. And no one handled those school chiefs [allowing the acts],” he said.
Leung did not elaborate what he meant by “handle”.
In November 2014, when the pro-democracy Occupy movement, or the so-called umbrella movement, was at its peak, some students attending graduation ceremonies at universities were seen raising yellow umbrellas when the anthem played, symbolically calling for universal suffrage in the city.