Protesters defy police ban as legislation prohibits mockery of Chinese anthem
On another day of tension in Hong Kong its legislature passed a controversial law criminalising the mockery of China’s national anthem and protesters defied a police ban to mark the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown with a vigil.
Many fear this year’s Tiananmen Square commemoration might be Hong Kong’s last, as the proposed imposition of national security laws by China on the semi-autonomous city would prevent and punish “acts and activities” that threaten national security.
The anthem law was passed with 41 votes for and one against the bill after a number of pro-democracy lawmakers were ejected for staging a noisy protest. Those who were able to vote were largely from the pro-Beijing camp, as the pro-democracy lawmakers were taking part in a last-minute protest that meant they couldn’t vote.
The newly-passed anthem law prohibits behaviours that “insult” or misuse the Chinese national anthem, including “publicly and intentionally” altering its lyrics or score, and playing or singing it in a “distorted or disrespectful way”.
Shortly before 1pm local time, pro-democracy lawmakers Eddie Chu and Ray Chan were ejected from the council chamber after staging a protest prior to the vote. After rushing to the front of the chamber holding placards in protest, they were quickly led away by security guards and the chair of the meeting suspended the session.
Before they were led away, Chu dropped a pot of pungent liquid on the floor. He and Chan later held placards outside emblazoned with the message: “A murderous state stinks forever.” They said the pro-democracy camp would use any means to stop the national anthem bill from passing. Most amendments raised by the pro-democracy lawmakers to limit the power of the proposed law were voted down by the pro-China lawmakers in the morning session.
Offences under the anthem law are punishable with a fine of HK$50,000 (£5,150) and up to three years in jail. It also stipulates that the anthem should be included in school education to teach students “the history and spirit of the national anthem”.
Critics fear that the vague definitions of terms like “insult” and “derogatory” in the legislation could threaten freedom of expression in Hong Kong. The law coincides with plans by Beijing to force through sweeping national security rules on Hong Kong to stamp out anti-government protests, which started a year ago. The proposed laws would punish “acts and activities” that threaten national security, including secession, subversion and terrorism and foreign interference.
Opposition lawmakers have argued that patriotism cannot be forced. Some Hong Kong football fans have booed the national anthem during World Cup qualifiers in the past, prompting Beijing to order legislation.
The anthem, titled The March of the Volunteers, was written in wartime in the 1930s and calls on people to “arise, ye who refuse to be slaves!”
Thousands demonstrated against the bill on 24 May and again last week when its second reading resumed in the legislature. Protesters were dispersed by police who fired pepper pellets and used water cannon.
Meanwhile thousands defied a police ban and thronged to downtown Victoria Park, where commemorations have taken place for the past 30 years, to mark the 4 June anniversary of the military crackdown on the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement in Beijing. Unlike past years, no organised ceremony was allowed as police refused to give demonstrators a permit.
Police loudhailers could be heard at the park and nearby areas warning people against participating in unapproved gatherings. Police sources told local media that they would not enter the park unless the event turns violent.
People held candle lights and chanted slogans, but unlike past years when they called for the vindication of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, most were shouting slogans popular in the recent anti-government movement, including ones calling for independence, such as “Free HK, democracy now!” and “Hong Kong Independence, only way!”