Hong Kong Moves Ahead With Controversial Anthem Law As Fans Boo Once More

Officials try to reassure people that they won't be prosecuted for failing to stand in informal situations.

A Hong Kong fan covers his face during the Chinese national anthem before a soccer match between Hong Kong and Bahrain at Mong Kok Stadium in Hong Kong, Nov. 9, 2017.

Officials in Hong Kong said they are moving to introduce legislation banning "insult or disrespect" to China's national anthem by March next year, as soccer fans once more booed the March of the Volunteers ahead of a match on Thursday night.

Hong Kong jeered, turned their backs, and yelled Cantonese obscenities as the rousing anthem of the People's Republic of China played over the loudspeakers at the Mong Kok Stadium ahead of a friendly match against Bahrain.

The city's government is moving to enact a law mandated by China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC) to put a stop to the booing, with the government planning to submit the first draft to the city's Legislative Council (LegCo) during the first quarter of 2018, local media reported.

The secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, Patrick Nip, admitted that a lot of people are concerned about the proposed legislation.

"During the whole legislative process, there are many opportunities for the Legislative Council and also the public and for us to listen to the views and consider their views," Nip told government broadcaster RTHK.

The NPC standing committee voted last weekend to add an existing national anthem law to an annex of Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, while upping the maximum penalty for "disrespecting the anthem" to three years' imprisonment.

Insertion of the legislation into the annexes of Hong Kong and Macau's Basic Law mean that the two cities must now take steps to incorporate them into their separate legal jurisdictions through promulgation or legislation.

NPC delegate Maria Tam she believes people will show more respect for the anthem when there is "a price to pay" for not doing so.

But she sought to reassure concerns that people could face criminal prosecution for failing to stand in informal situations.

"If you don't stand, it doesn't mean that automatically you're guilty of anything because we have to prove that ... you have the intention to insult or be disrespectful," Tam told RTHK. "The standard of proof is still the same."

Complex reasons

A soccer fan surnamed Lai said he thinks the jeering is done for complex reasons, however.

"The main thing is dissatisfaction with the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA), and the second thing is anger at the ruling Chinese Communist Party," Lai told RFA. "This spills over into jeering at the national anthem, but there are still people waving the national flag and so on."

He said he thinks a new law will likely put many fans off the behavior, however.

"Probably most people, myself included, would stop booing openly ... that's for sure," Lai said. "But then there'd be no channel for the anger against the HKFA and the Chinese government."

"People would find some other way of expressing that ... I don't know if it's possible to legislate for absolutely everything," he said.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai agreed, saying that not booing doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as respect.

"Even if we had this law in effect now, it couldn't ensure that people had heartfelt respect for their country," Wu said. "In forcing us to bring in a National Anthem Law, China will ensure that the exact opposite happens."

"It's all for show, with any conflict swept under the carpet," he said.

Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.