Hong Kong reveals law that forbids insults to the Chinese national anthem
Hong Kong enjoys unprecedented rights on the mainland, but there are fears that they are increasingly threatened, as Beijing tries to destroy every challenge to its sovereignty.
Hong Kong unveiled a bill on Wednesday to punish anyone who does not respect the Chinese national anthem with up to three years in prison, because Beijing is pushing the pressure on the semi-autonomous city to fall into line.
The bill, which will receive its first reading in the city parliament on 23 January, will kick off a new battle between authorities and democracy activists who say that the freedoms of the financial hub are being dismantled steadily.
Hong Kong has refined the law since China refined the law in the right way and place to sing the national anthem, and tightened up rules that prevent people from attending parties, weddings and funerals.
A bill showed that the city planned to copy the mainland by introducing a maximum of three years imprisonment for "serious" cases of lack of respect for the national anthem.
The design prohibits the playing of the national anthem "in a distorted or disrespectful way, with the intention of insulting". It also prohibits changing the lyrics of the anthem and its score. In addition to possible prison time, perpetrators also receive fines of up to HK $ 50,000 (approximately $ 6,000).
Patrick Nip, secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, told reporters that the law would "preserve the dignity of the national anthem and promote respect".
Defiant Hong Kong football fans have been boasting the anthem at competitions for years. Fans have also turned their backs and have shown banners that argue for independence for the city, an idea that makes Beijing enraged.
The draft law mentioned the difficulty of identifying offenders in a crowd of football supporters as one of the reasons why the police get twice as much time – a year – to investigate a non-punishable offense.
The bill also increases how often the national anthem of China will be played during official events, including the inauguration of new judges.
This can create eyebrows as the Hong Kong legal system is separate from the mainland under the 1997 transfer agreement with Great Britain, designed to guarantee the city's freedoms for 50 years.
Critics, including a growing number of British legislators, are accusing China of abandoning that agreement, citing a number of movements aimed at freedom of expression of the city, including crackdown on rebel lawmakers and activists.
The Hong Kong authorities say that they have acted in accordance with the national security provisions in the transfer agreement.
Pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo accused the government of using the law as a "political weapon" to "help close the entire opposition".
Mo warned that the authorities would deliberately make the law "unclear and ambiguous" to target critics of the Chinese government.
The law is expected to go through some changes because it only needs a simple majority in the legislature of the city, which is heavily weighted compared to the pro-Beijing branch.
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