Voting 41 in favour and one against, Hong Kong’s legislature passed a bill on Thursday that would criminalise disrespect of China’s national anthem, a move critics see as the latest sign of Beijing’s tightening grip on the semi-autonomous region.
The 75-seat chamber’s pro-democracy faction meanwhile, refused to vote and shouted slogans denouncing the law.
The proceedings were delayed earlier in the day, when two pro-democracy lawmakers threw foul-smelling liquid on the floor of the legislative chamber to protest against China’s “murderous” Tiananmen crackdown in 1989.
Lawmakers Eddie Chu and Ray Chan rushed to the front of the chamber during a debate over the controversial Bill, splashing the fluid as guards grappled with them. Police and firefighters later arrived.
“A murderous state stinks forever. What we did today is to remind the world that we should never forgive the Chinese Communist Party for killing its own people 31 years ago,” Mr. Chu said, before he and Mr. Chan were removed from the chamber.
Others in the pro-democracy faction gave impassioned speeches denouncing the law, which carries up to three years in prison and fines of up to HK$50,000 for anyone who insults the March Of The Volunteers.
The vote came as Hongkongers marked the 31st anniversary of China sending tanks and troops to crush pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and opponents rallied around the symbolism of the timing.
The anthem bill also makes it compulsory for primary and secondary school students in Hong Kong to be taught to sing the national anthem, along with its history and etiquette.
“If you want people to respect the national anthem, I’m afraid you have chosen the wrong approach, it is counter-productive,” pro-democracy lawmaker Wu Chi Wai said during the debate.
Quoting the first line of the anthem, a revolutionary call to arms that declares “arise ye who refuse to be slaves”, Mr. Wu said: “The central people’s government is suppressing us and we are forced to become slaves of this regime.”
Hong Kong’s legislature is stacked with pro-Beijing lawmakers, and only half the chamber is elected by popular vote. The government has rejected the notion that the anthem law restricts political freedoms, saying many nations have similar laws.
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang told reporters after the vote: “Some people said this is a vicious law and will suppress our freedom of speech. That does not exist at all.”
People would be prosecuted only if they “openly and deliberately” insulted the anthem, he said.
Beijing has been infuriated by Hongkongers – especially football fans – booing the national anthem in recent years to signal dissatisfaction with China’s rule.
Instead of singing the national anthem at football matches, fans have at times sung Glory To Hong Kong instead, a song that has become a rallying cry for the city’s pro-democracy movement.
The new anthem law needs to be signed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam and is expected to take effect from next Friday. (Source: The Straits Times)