Asia Pacific / Crime & Legal

China criminalizes 'insults' to national anthem, even in Hong Kong and Macau

Kyodo

China’s parliament has passed a draft law that criminalizes acts deemed insulting to the national anthem, even if committed in the territories of Hong Kong and Macao, according to a legal affairs official.

The National Anthem Law was passed Friday by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee with 146 votes in support and one in abstention, according to Wu Zheng, head of the state law office of the Legislative Affairs Commission.

“The National Anthem Law, according to the Basic Laws in Hong Kong and Macao, is a national law to be implemented in the two special administrative regions,” Wu said in a news briefing in Beijing following a NPCSC meeting.

“With the passage by the NPCSC, the National Anthem Law will be annexed in the Basic Law in a timely manner and fully implemented in the two SARs,” she said.

The law, to take effect on Oct. 1, would place protecting the dignity of the national anthem above citizens’ “so-called” freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

“The state has to protect people’s legal rights, but at the same time the people must not abuse freedom and rights. Behaviors that insult national dignity, harm the nation’s feeling and endanger national interests must be pursued and punished according to law,” Wu said.

The law requires people to stand up straight and behave solemnly when the anthem is played at public events, and for the anthem to be played only at “appropriate” occasions.

Maliciously altering the lyrics, the melody, playing the song in a distorted or derogatory way or anything else deemed offensive will be subject to legal consequences.

“Respecting, understanding and learning to sing the national anthem are basic requirements for every citizen. Protecting the dignity of the song equals protecting the dignity of the people,” Wu added.

Soccer fans in Hong Kong booed the national anthem when it was played before two World Cup qualifiers in 2015, when a growing discontent against Chinese rule gained a foothold in the city.

In Hong Kong, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen said local adaptation to the National Anthem Law is needed to make it applicable in Hong Kong, which would “give clear wordings for enforcement, so that basic rights and freedom of Hong Kong people will not be affected.”

There is no timetable for local legislation.

The Chinese national anthem began to be played in Hong Kong after the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.