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Hong Kong outlaws insult or abuse of China’s national anthem

Lawmaker Chan Chi-chuen scuffles with security guards
Pro-democracy lawmaker Chan Chi-chuen, holding a placard reading “A murderous regime stinks for 10,000 years,” scuffles with security guards at the main chamber of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.
(Associated Press)

Hong Kong’s legislature approved a contentious bill Thursday that makes it illegal to insult the Chinese national anthem.

The legislation was approved after pro-democracy opposition lawmakers tried to disrupt the vote. It passed with 41 lawmakers voting for it and just one voting against. Most of the pro-democracy lawmakers boycotted the vote.

The pro-democracy camp sees the anthem law as an infringement of freedom of expression and of the greater rights that residents of the semi-autonomous city have compared to mainland China. The pro-Beijing majority in the legislature said the law is necessary for Hong Kong citizens to show appropriate respect for the anthem.

Those found guilty of intentionally abusing “March of the Volunteers” face up to three years in prison and a fine of up to 50,000 Hong Kong dollars ($6,450).

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The legislative debate was earlier suspended after pro-democracy lawmakers staged a protest, with one dropping a pot of pungent liquid in the chamber.

Raising a sign that said “A murderous regime stinks for 10,000 years,” lawmaker Ray Chan walked to the front of the chamber with the pot hidden inside a Chinese paper lantern. When security guards tried to stop him, he dropped the lantern and the pot and was ejected from the meeting. Another lawmaker who accompanied him was also ejected.

Thousands of Hong Kong soccer fans booed loudly and turned their backs when the Chinese national anthem was played before a World Cup qualifier match against Iran on Tuesday, taking the city’s months of protests into the sports realm.

The chamber was evacuated and police, and firefighters were called in to investigate the incident.

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When the meeting resumed, pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui again splashed some liquid at the front of the meeting room and was escorted out.

The president of Hong Kong’s legislature, Andrew Leung, called such behavior irresponsible and childish. He cut short the debate because of the earlier suspension and called for the vote. Critics said the shortened debate allowed the bill to be pushed through.

“I have not cut short the meeting; I have not pushed through the bill,” Leung said afterward. “I have told members that I have scheduled 30 hours [to debate the bill] so we just work according to the schedule.”

Hong Kong authorities have banned the annual Tiananmen Square massacre commemoration this year. But some are determined to remember — and resist.

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The contentious debate over the bill comes after China’s ceremonial national legislature formally approved a decision last week to enact a national security law for Hong Kong that could see Chinese security agents posted in the city.

The national security law is aimed at curbing subversive activity, with Beijing pushing for it after a months-long pro-democracy protest movement that at times saw violent clashes between police and protesters.

While experts have warned that the law could imperil Hong Kong’s status as one of the world’s best places to do business, at least two banks with a strong Asian presence have publicly backed the decision.

HSBC said in a Chinese social media post that it “respects and supports all laws that stabilize Hong Kong’s social order,” while Standard Chartered said it believed the national security law would “help maintain the long-term economic and social stability of Hong Kong.”

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Opponents of the anthem bill and the national security law see them as signs of Beijing’s tightening control over the territory.

Beijing began pushing for the anthem law after Hong Kong soccer fans jeered the national anthem at international matches in 2015. As anti-government protests engulfed Hong Kong last year, thousands of fans booed loudly and turned their backs when the anthem was played at a World Cup qualifier match against Iran in September. FIFA later fined the Hong Kong Football Assn. over the incident.

The legislative session on Thursday coincided with the 31st anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

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Before debate began, pro-democracy lawmakers stood in silence to mark the anniversary and put up signs on their desks that said “Do not forget June 4, the hearts of the people will not die.”


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