HONG KONG – The Hong Kong Legislative Council passed on Thursday a controversial law to penalize insults to the Chinese national anthem with up to three years of imprisonment.
Besides the prison term, the new law stipulates fines of up to HK$50,000 ($6,450) for any disrespect of the “March of the Volunteers.”
The bill was passed in the legislature with 41 votes in favor and one against.
The law was passed after an interruption of several hours caused by an opposition party lawmaker who threw a foul liquid inside the house, prompting the police and firefighters to intervene.
Legislative Council President Andrew Leung justified a vote despite losing five hours of debate in the hemicycle, criticizing “the attitude” of the lawmakers of the city’s pro-democracy movement, who have opposed the so-called national anthem law.
More than 20 lawmakers decided not to vote.
The voting “was done in a way that was not through a proper procedure. The chair compressed the procedures and disregarded the requests for procedural questions raised by the pro-democracy legislators,” Labour Party vice-chairman and lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung explained to EFE.
“The regime wants the national anthem law to be passed on June 4 to show to Hong Kong people that they are in complete control (of the city),” he added.
The single vote against the bill came from Civic Passion party’s Cheng Chung-tai, who in 2017 was fined HK$5,000 for placing the flags of China and the former British colony upside down.
Prior to the passing of the national anthem law, a demonstration was held on May 27 to prevent debate in the hemicycle, which resulted in fresh episodes of violence and more than 300 people arrested.
The passing of the law comes on a particularly delicate day, given that Thursday marked the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.
The Chinese Army had then cracked down on dissenters, killing an undetermined number of demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square as well as other parts across the country who were calling for political reform, democracy, and an end to corruption.
Since 1990, Hong Kong has commemorated the massacre with a mass vigil, although this year the police have not permitted it to be held, on grounds of public health owing to the current COVID-19 crisis, which has led the organizers to find alternative ways to mark the incident.
Moreover, last week, the Chinese Legislature passed a controversial national security law for Hong Kong that, according to lawyers and activists, could curtail the freedoms enjoyed by the semi-autonomous city.
However, it is still in the final drafting and approval phase under the Chinese authorities, and experts believe the law could come into effect between July and August since it will not be discussed in the legislature of Hong Kong.
The national security law will prohibit “any act of treason, secession, sedition, and subversion” against the central government, in addition to the “theft of state secrets and the organization of activities in Hong Kong by foreign political organizations,” terms that the Chinese government has previously used to curb dissent.
This move comes after nearly a year of pro-democracy mobilizations that have severely jolted Hong Kong’s economy and also resulted in clashes between the police and several violent protesters.
Article 23 of the Basic Law (which governs Hong Kong) stipulates that the city must endorse legislation on security made by Beijing, something that has always been extremely controversial among the population for fear that it would result in a reduction of freedoms.
Hong Kong has been gripped for several years by political unrest and demonstrations, which had been gaining momentum in the months leading up to the coronavirus outbreak, which led to them being suspended.
The territory was returned to Chinese control in 1997 after a century and a half of British rule after London and Beijing signed a joint declaration in 1984 under which the UK renounced its last Asian colony.
This deal established a series of freedoms in the city for 50 years, many of which do not exist in mainland China.