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Hong Kong Plans Three-Year Jail Sentences for Mocking the Chinese National Anthem

Prison time for China anthem insults in new Hong Kong law
AP Photo/Kin Cheung

The semi-autonomous government of Hong Kong on Friday announced plans to impose a three-year jail sentence on anyone who disrespects the Chinese national anthem.

AFP explains that China passed laws last year specifying how and when the national anthem can be sung, in particular banning it from performances at parties, weddings, and funerals. Use of the anthem in commercial advertising is also banned.

The punishment specified in the new legislation could be as severe as three years in prison for especially vigorous mockery of the anthem.

The legislation is highly relevant in Hong Kong because soccer fans have a habit of booing the Chinese anthem, turning their backs, and waving Hong Kong independence banners at games.

AFP quotes pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo denouncing Hong Kong’s effort to mirror the Chinese legislation as a “psychological weapon” to make residents “feel more Chinese rather than being Hong Kong.”

“If the bill becomes a reality, this would harm the public’s basic rights,” said opposition leader Wu Chi-wai. “If protesters argue with people who play the national anthem or make gestures at them, even if they do not intend to insult the national anthem, they may get charged by the authorities.”

“If passed, the proposed bill, submitted to the Legislative Council, would also make it a legal requirement for schools to teach the anthem, the ‘March of the Volunteers,’ its history and its ‘spirit,’” Channel News Asia notes.

The South China Morning Post writes that the Hong Kong bill does not clearly define what constitutes an “insult” to the Chinese anthem, which makes “the intention behind any perceived abuse crucial to deciding whether offenders should be jailed.”

Neither is the government source who told the SCMP that a group of people booing the anthem at a soccer game would more likely be charged with contempt than “an individual coughing at that moment,” or diners at a restaurant who forgot to stop eating and pay respects when the anthem is played on television.

“There is still much grey area … and issues that require further clarification,” conceded Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu. “The bill will prompt caution and make a lot of people stay away from touching the national anthem; I’m not sure if that’s beneficial to our creativity.”

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