Hong Kong Basic Law

Unlawful for Hong Kong musicians to use national anthem in artistic work, city’s mainland affairs chief says

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip says altering lyrics or creating parodies of March of the Volunteers would be an offence under proposed bill

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 March, 2018, 3:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 March, 2018, 11:18pm

It would be unlawful for Hong Kong musicians to use the national anthem in their artistic work under the government’s bill to criminalise insults to the song, the city’s constitutional and mainland affairs chief said on Saturday.

But Patrick Nip Tak-kuen argued this did not mean that Hongkongers’ artistic freedom would be compromised under the legislation.

Nip also said the proposed law would not “interfere” with the operation of local schools, as most of them were already required to teach their pupils to sing the anthem.

‘Foreword to Hong Kong’s national anthem law will promote patriotic spirit’

Last November, China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, inserted the mainland’s national anthem law into Annex III of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. The move meant that the city’s government would need to adopt local legislation on the matter. Authorities aim to table the bill at the Legislative Council in July.

Under an outline released by the government, the bill will make it a criminal offence to “publicly and wilfully alter” the lyrics or score of March of the Volunteers, perform or sing it in “a distorted or derogatory” manner, or insult it in any other way. It will be punishable by a maximum fine of HK$50,000 (US$6,400) and three years in prison.

The bill will state that primary and secondary schools would need to teach pupils to sing and understand the history of the anthem, but legal experts questioned if this was necessary.

Speaking on a radio programme on Saturday, Nip was asked if, under the bill, songwriters would be allowed to rewrite the lyrics of the anthem.

Intention key to determining whether national anthem insult in Hong Kong deserves jail time

“I am afraid that’s not possible, because the national anthem’s lyrics and score are fixed ... ‘Improving’ the lyrics would be tantamount to altering it,” he said.

On whether the restriction would be an infringement on personal freedoms, he said: “The freedoms of speech and expression are not without their boundaries. There are Court of Final Appeal rulings stating that ... reasonable restrictions can be imposed on those freedoms.”

The freedoms of speech and expression are not without their boundaries
Patrick Nip, minister

Nip added that restrictions could be regarded as reasonable as long as they only limited the ways of expression and not the content expressed.

“There are many ways of expression ... and many ways to create parodies and satires, but the principle is that the national anthem should not be used for that.”

During the programme, he addressed concerns expressed by legal heavyweights regarding the inclusion of the responsibilities of schools in the bill.

He said most local schools were already teaching pupils about the national anthem, and including a clause for them would not be counted as interference but merely as a way to make the local law more in line with the mainland version.

“We would not intrude into our education system and meddle with it,” he added.