A pro-Beijing heavyweight has said she believes that the Hong Kong police will not enforce the national anthem law recklessly.

Fans booed the anthem yet again at an international friendly against Bahrain on Thursday, despite repeated warnings and upcoming local legislation. The highest penalty for disrespecting March of the Volunteers in the mainland is three years in prison.

Maria Tam, a Hong Kong delegate of the National People’s Congress, said on an RTHK programme on Friday that she could imagine a lot of situations, but prosecutions would have to prove the intention and action of the accused.

Maria Tam. File Photo: gov.cn.

The principles of respecting the anthem should be written into the law, Tam said, but they may not have to be enforced in all situations.

“When there is a law, it does not necessarily mean that everyone abides by it,” she said. “If someone crosses the road in a red light, do you arrest him? It depends on the situation.”

“If someone did not stand up solemnly when the anthem is played, but no chaos is caused, I believe the police will not recklessly enforce the law,” she said. “If someone leaves the seat because of some issues when the anthem is played, it is also difficult to prove it is an intentional insult to the anthem.”

“After someone pays the price, it will deter people from breaking the law,” she said. “We should respect national anthems, regardless of whether it is ours or other countries’. I think this is a universal value.”

Tam maintained that the public should stand up on public occasions when the anthem is played, but it may not be necessary to do so when the anthem is played before the evening news, since it is not a public occasion: “People’s lives will not be affected.”

She said people should not create derivative parody works of the anthem, which may constitute disrespect.

Tam said she has not heard from official channels that the law will have a retroactive power. “There is no retroactive power in Hong Kong’s criminal laws,” said Tam, a former barrister.

She said the situation at the Thursday match was an improvement from a 2015 match when Hong Kong played against Qatar: “At the time, they chanted slogans, clapped loudly, and banged pong bong sticks, in order to completely drown out the March of the Volunteers. What happened yesterday was an improvement.”

She said she expected the jeers to continue after the law is enacted in Hong Kong.

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.