The new bill, which penalizes offenders with prison sentences as long as three years, has sparked concerns over violation of free speech.
According to Hong Kong constitutional affairs official Patrick Nip, the legislation prohibits “willfully” altering and insulting the anthem or singing it in a “distorted or derogatory” manner. This proposal seeks to cover a broad scope, from internet posts to sporting events.
Based on the new bill, the anthem must be played on occasions such as swearing-in ceremonies of government officials and lawmakers, National Day cocktail receptions, as well as major sports events. Civilians and organizations should pay respects to the anthem by standing and singing in a dignified manner. Insults of the anthem published online and in schools are also covered, reports Bloomberg.
Pro-democracy lawmakers are expected to vote against the bill as it is introduced to the Legislative Council on Jan. 23.
“The risk is that it becomes a political tool for the administration to persecute lawmakers they don’t trust or even ordinary people who appear to be ‘naughty,’” Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung was quoted as saying.
Members of the opposition party say the bill is part of the government’s broader crackdown on dissent. Such moves, they say, contribute to the destruction of the liberal political and economic system in Hong Kong.
In recent years, China, under President Xi Jinping’s rule, has been asserting its dominance over the existing “one country, two systems” framework in Hong Kong.
It was just last year that Hong Kong banned a political party advocating independence from China. Six activists were also kicked out of the Legislative Council after insulting the mainland while taking their oaths of office.
In 2017, China’s top parliamentary body included a requirement for Hong Kong’s charter to adopt the anthem legislation into law. Another addition to the Basic Law, known as Annex III, provides additional power to China to apply national laws in Hong Kong.
The anthem, “March of the Volunteers,” was written by Tian Han in 1934, adopted as the PRC’s provisional anthem in 1949 and then raised to official status in 1982. It was also adopted by Hong Kong and Macau upon their restoration to China in 1997 and 1999, respectively.
The lyrics for the anthem are as follows:
“MARCH OF THE VOLUNTEERS”
“Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves! With our flesh and blood, let us build a new Great Wall! As China faces its greatest peril From each one, the urgent call to action comes forth. Arise! Arise! Arise! Millions of but one heart Braving the enemies’ fire! March on! Braving the enemies’ fire! March on! March on! March, march on!”
When played during sporting events, the anthem draws boos from young democracy supporters who have viewed it as a symbol of Communist Party interference in Hong Kong.