Hong Kong police confirmed Friday that they had opened an investigation into videos surfacing online this week allegedly showing residents booing the “March of the Volunteers,” the national anthem of China.
The Chinese-controlled Hong Kong government outlawed disrespect to the Chinese anthem, including singing the song inappropriately, in 2020 after a year of intense protests against the Communist Party. At their peak, the protests attracted over 2 million of the city’s 7 million residents to march the streets simultaneously. Protests initially began in response to the Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo) attempting to pass a law that would have allowed Hong Kong police to extradite anyone present in the city should China accuse them of violating communist laws.
In the aftermath of the protests, the National People’s Congress (NPC) passed what has come to be known as the “national security law,” criminalizing four behaviors — incitement to secession, terrorism, incitement to foreign interference, and subversion of state power — and prescribing a minimum ten years in prison for the guilty. The NPC, based in Beijing, has no power over Hong Kong under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy, but the Hong Kong government has begun convicting people of breaking the law this year, anyway.
Booing the “March of the Volunteers” may qualify as a violation of the “national security law,” police have warned.
The alleged violations occurred Monday in Kwun Tong’s APM shopping mall, where hundreds of people had convened to watch live footage of the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Mass viewing events in Hong Kong are common and have become more popular this year in light of Hong Kong athletes’ unprecedented success so far at the Games. That night, the crowd watched fencer Cheung Ka-long win a gold medal in men’s individual foil competition, the second gold medal in Hong Kong’s history. As he won gold, the medal ceremony featured the national anthem of China.
The crowd appeared to boo the national anthem. Some in attendance reportedly shouted, “we are Hong Kong!”, a common sports shout that some in the anti-communist movement have adopted. Some reports indicate that at least one fan waved a flag of the United Kingdom, which protesters adopted in 2019 as a symbol of Western human rights and freedom norms the Chinese Communist Party has flagrantly disrespected throughout history. Hong Kong was part of the United Kingdom until 1997, when London handed it over to Beijing.
Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) confirmed on Friday that police had opened an “investigation” into the behavior at the mall, looking for potential violations of the “national security” or anthem laws. In addition to the former, the Hong Kong LegCo criminalized any disrespect of the national anthem in 2020. Violators face up to three years in prison or a HK$50,000 fine, about $6,500.
The South China Morning Post reported Friday that the investigation into the Monday incident was the beginning of more extensive police operations to punish anyone who dared to express dissent with the Chinese Communist Party.
“Hong Kong police quietly fanned out in shopping centres across the city on Friday morning as local swimmer Siobhan Haughey went for another medal at the Tokyo Olympics, a move intended to prevent any potential booing of the national anthem during the live broadcast,” the newspaper reported, citing unnamed sources. It did not specify whether the officers were uniformed or blending into crowds undercover.
“We are concerned about whether there might be any unruly behaviour, booing and chanting slogans that may contravene the national security law and national anthem ordinance,” one unnamed source, presumably in the police force, said.
The Chinese communist regime had already antagonized Hong Kong fans this week over the treatment of badminton Olympian Angus Ng Ka-long. Ng outraged both Beijing and Chinese loyalists in Hong Kong for wearing a black shirt to his first match — the product, he insisted, of his sponsorship agreements falling out and leaving him to find a replacement at last minute. The pro-China critics claimed that the shirt was evocative of the 2019 protests, which adopted black t-shirts as something of a uniform in contrast to the communist red of the Chinese flag. Chinese pressure forced Ng to replace his shirt with a green and white one that appeared to fit poorly, seemingly distracting him from the game and costing him a loss against a player ranked fifty seeds below him.