“Hong Kong law makes mocking Chinese national anthem a crime”
Pro-democracy lawmakers and activists opposed the law as part of the mainland’s Communist government to thwart dissent following violent protests in the territory over a feared loss of liberty.
The law will go into effect June 12, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang said.
“We’ve reiterated that we hope the public respects the national anthem, which is the symbol and sign of our country,” Tsang said, speaking after the law had passed, according to the news service.
“Critics have said that this is an evil law that would suppress freedom of speech. That’s not true. If you do not publicly and deliberately insult the national anthem, you don’t have to worry that you’re breaking the law.”
The harsh new law carries a prison sentence of up to three years for people convicted of insulting the anthem or singing it in a “distorted or derogatory” manner, either online or in public — even at a sporting event.
The legislation prompted demonstrations in last month, and comes as China seeks to enact new national security legislation on the former British colony.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam had pushed ahead with the anthem bill despite the opposition, saying in May that it would get priority in the legislature.
At sports events in the semi-autonomous city, residents often boo the Chinese national anthem, “March of the Volunteers,” and protesters last year came up with their own anthem, “Glory to Hong Kong.”
The passage of the bill came on the June 4 anniversary of China’s 1989 crackdown on activists in Tiananmen Square, a milestone that is usually marked by protests in Hong Kong.
But Hong Kong authorities barred the event this year, citing social distancing measures taken to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Authorities cited the need for social distancing amid the outbreak, despite the recent reopening of schools, beaches, bars and beauty parlors, Fox News reported.
Hong Kong has had comparatively few cases of the virus and life has mostly returned to normal in the teeming city of 7.4 million.
Hundreds or possibly thousands of people were killed when tanks and troops assaulted the center of Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989 to break up weeks of student-led protests authorities called a threat to authoritarian Communist Party rule.
“We all know the Hong Kong government and the Chinese government really don’t want to see the candle lights in Victoria Park,” said Wu’er Kaixi, a former student leader who was No. 2 on the government’s most-wanted list following the crackdown, referring to the location of the commemoration for the past three decades.
“The Chinese Communists want us all to forget about what happened 31 years ago. But it is the Chinese government themselves reminding the whole world that they are the same government which 31 years ago suppressed the peaceful demonstrators and in the last year, the same government doing the same in Hong Kong,” he told The Associated Press in Taiwan, where he lives.
Other vigils, virtual and otherwise, are planned elsewhere, including in Taiwan, the self-ruled island democracy whose government has criticized Beijing for hiding the facts of the massacre.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called the statement “complete nonsense.”
“As to the political disturbance that occurred in the late 1980s, the Chinese government has had a clear conclusion. The great achievements that we have achieved … have fully demonstrated that the development path China has chosen is completely correct, which conforms to China’s national conditions and has won the sincere support of the Chinese people,” Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing.
Meanwhile, police pepper-sprayed some Hong Kong protesters on Thursday who defied the ban to stage rallies.
Scuffles broke out briefly in the working-class Mong Kok area where hundreds had gathered and some demonstrators tried to set up roadblocks with metal barriers, prompting officers to use spray to disperse them, according to Reuters witnesses.
Several protesters were arrested, police said.
Earlier, a few thousand people joined a peaceful main rally in Victoria Park, many wearing masks and chanting slogans such as “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time” and “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”
“We are just remembering those who died on June 4, the students who were killed. What have we done wrong? For 30 years we have come here peacefully and reasonably, once it’s over it’s ‘sayonara’,” said Kitty, a 70-year-old housewife.
The ban on the vigils also comes as Chinese media and some Beijing officials voice support for protests in the US against police brutality, and as relations between the world’s two largest economies continue to sour.
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