A top Hong Kong official has said the government will consult the legislature and the public when enacting the national anthem law. He was unclear as to whether the law will have a retroactive effect, though made reference to a relevant article in the Bill of Rights Ordinance stating that laws should not.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip said the government will commence the preparation of local legislation, after the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress adopts the decision to add the law to Annex III of the Basic Law – Hong Kong’s de facto constitution. The decision may be passed this week.

“It is premature to comment on individual provisions and details at the present stage,” Nip said at a Legislative Council Q&A session on Wednesday. “In the course of enacting the relevant local legislation, the government will consult the Legislative Council and the public and discuss the legislative proposals.”

Patrick Nip
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Mr Patrick Nip Tak-kuen. File Photo: GovHK.

Some pro-Beijing heavyweights have suggested the law should have retroactive power, but the assertion was opposed by democrats and scholars.

Nip said the the preparation of local legislation “would include taking into account the relevant provision of Article 12 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance.” The Article stated that there should be no retrospective criminal offences or penalties.

He added that LegCo will have “ample opportunities” to discuss and scrutinise the local legislation for the national anthem law during the legislative process.

The controversy surrounding Hong Kong’s enactment of the law came as local football fans have been criticised for continuously jeering the national anthem during matches.

China’s legislative body approved a new law in early September that will criminalise insulting the national anthem, March of the Volunteers. It took effect on National Day on October 1. On Tuesday, the Committee considered a bill mandating prison sentences of up to three years for those disrespecting the anthem.

Hong Kong fans boo national anthem

Zhang Rongshun, deputy director of the Standing Committee’s Legislative Affairs Commission, said it was “urgent and important” to apply the national anthem law in Hong Kong because of past incidents of people disrespecting the song.

Nip said that the government will take into account the punishments listed in the existing national flag and emblem law. The maximum penalty for desecrating the national flag or the national emblem is a HK$50,000 fine and three years behind bars.

Asked by lawmaker Helena Wong if the law if be applied to the publication of derivative or parody works of the national anthem online, Nip said the laws in the physical world are in general applicable to the cyber world based on actual circumstances.

“The Police often appeal to the public to use the internet properly and lawfully, and to refrain from sending any messages that, for example, are irresponsible or incite others to engage in illegal activities. In case of any illegal activities online, the Police shall collect evidence for follow-up investigations.”

lee ming-kwai
Lee Ming-kwai. File Photo: GovHK.

Meanwhile, former police commissioner Lee Ming-kwai told the pro-Beijing Sing Tao Daily that the law should indeed have retroactive power: “Some may intentionally cause trouble or chaos before the national anthem law is enacted – thus there is a need for a retroactive period.”

Asked about how to enforce the law retroactively, he said: “Law enforcement is never easy, if it’s easy, police are worthless.” He said police can enforce the law based on evidence collected by the current technology: “There were several hundred people creating chaos during the Mong Kok riot, and they were caught.”

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.