Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said there will be a consultation over local legislation of the national anthem law, and that such laws are not usually applied retroactively.

She said the anthem law was akin to the national flag and national emblem, which Hong Kong has enacted laws to protect. The Hong Kong government has begun to devise local legislation after China enacted laws banning citizens from disrespecting March of the Volunteers. The highest penalty for violating the law in the mainland is three years in prison.

“But in the legislative process, we will consider Hong Kong’s constitution and legal system, and protections under the legal system,” Lam said.

Carrie Lam. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Speaking to the press on Tuesday, she said she hoped the law can be sent to the Legislative Council for review within the current legislative session, which ends in July next year: “During the course, there will be discussion in society and a certain amount of consultation.”

“In accordance with Hong Kong’s common legal principles, the local legislation of the national anthem law is unlikely to have a retroactive period,” she said.

‘Respect the nation’s symbols’

But she said she hoped Hongkongers would not disrespect the new rules before the law is enacted: “It is the responsibility of every person, every citizen, to respect the nation’s symbols,” she said.

Lawyers have raised concerns about “impractical” and “unrealistic” situations if the public has to stop all activity when the anthem is played.

Lam said there is “absolutely no need for too much worry and anxiety” over unintentionally violating the law.

Carrie Lam. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Lam said the law will only regulate situations where people intentionally mock or insult the anthem: “I don’t see what it has to do with creative freedom and freedom of expression.”

“But it reflects a recent phenomenon in Hong Kong that – whether it is related to issues between Hong Kong and the mainland, or issues between the Hong Kong and the central government… [some] use words that create fear in society to blow something out of proportion,” she said.

“I don’t hope to see such unnecessary interference when enacting the national anthem law.”

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress passed a decision last Saturday to insert the new national anthem law into the Annex III of the Basic Law, which will be followed by local legislation in Hong Kong.

In China, the song cannot be played as background music publicly, and “inappropriate” private performances are also banned.

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.