AFP-JijiHONG KONG (AFP-Jiji) — Hong Kong unveiled a proposed law Wednesday to punish anyone who disrespects the Chinese national anthem with up to three years in jail, as Beijing ramps up pressure on the semi-autonomous city to fall into line.
The bill, which will have its first reading in the city’s parliament on Jan. 23, sets up a fresh battle between authorities and democracy activists who say the financial hub’s freedoms are being steadily dismantled.
Hong Kong has mulled the law ever since China fine-tuned legislation on the proper way and place to sing the anthem, tightening rules that already bar people from performing it at parties, weddings and funerals.
A draft bill showed that the city planned to copy the mainland by bringing in a maximum three year prison sentence for “serious” cases of disrespect toward the national anthem.
The draft outlaws playing the anthem “in a distorted or disrespectful way, with intent to insult.” It also forbids altering the anthem’s lyrics and its score. As well as possible jail time, offenders will also face fines of up to 50,000 Hong Kong dollars ($6,000).
Patrick Nip, secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, told reporters the law would “preserve the dignity of the national anthem and promote respect.”
Defiant Hong Kong football fans have booed the anthem at matches for years. Fans have also previously turned their backs and displayed banners advocating independence for the city, a notion that infuriates Beijing.
The draft bill cited the difficulty of identifying culprits in a crowd of football supporters as one of the reasons police will be given double the amount of time — one year — to investigate a non-indictable offense.
The bill also ramps up how often China’s national anthem will be played at official events, including at the inauguration of new judges.
That may raise eyebrows given Hong Kong’s legal system is separate from the mainland under the 1997 handover agreement with Britain designed to guarantee the city’s liberties for 50 years.
Critics, including a growing number of British lawmakers, accuse China of reneging on that agreement, citing a variety of moves targeting the city’s freedom of expression, including a crackdown on rebel lawmakers and activists.
Hong Kong authorities say they have acted in accordance with national security provisions in the handover agreement.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo accused the government of using the law as a “political weapon” to “help shut down the entire opposition.”
Mo warned that the authorities would deliberately make the law “nebulous and ambiguous” in order to target critics of the Chinese government.