A former justice secretary and top adviser to Beijing has said that the legislature can set a retroactive period for the national anthem law should there be a “large scale breach.”

Elsie Leung, vice-chairwoman of Beijing’s Basic Law Committee, said criminal laws in Hong Kong are not normally retroactive, and she believed the upcoming legislation of the national anthem law should not be either.

“[But] if there is large-scale breaching before legislation, I believe the legislature has the power to make it retroactive when submitting a draft if necessary,” she said after a public event on Sunday.

Elsie Leung
Elsie Leung. File

However, she said the booing of the national anthem, March of the Volunteers, at a football match last week was a “controllable situation.”

The highest penalty for disrespecting the song in the mainland is three years in prison.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam had said that the law is unlikely to have a retroactive effect, whilst Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip had said local legislation would consider “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.

Leung also said there was no need to issue a white bill as a form of public consultation.

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The local lawmaking process began after China’s top legislature decided to insert the law into the Annex III of the Basic Law – Hong Kong’s de facto constitution. The annex includes mainland laws which apply locally to govern the use of the national flag and emblem – among other national rules which apply to Hong Kong.

Consultation questions

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung also said on Sunday that the public should not be “persistent” with questions over the term “consultation”.

“I think the public has focused too much on the consultation,” Cheung said. “Our past experience was that – when it goes to the Legislative Council – bill committees can be formed for bills that the public is concerned about, panels can also hold public hearings.”

“Not every single bill requires a public consultation… The Legislative Council will hold public hearings.”

Michael Yeung
Michael Yeung. Photo: HKFP/Kris Cheng.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong Bishop Michael Yeung said it should be natural for Chinese citizens to sing the national anthem: “What’s the big deal?”

“If someone insists on not singing… it is against the social norm,” he said, adding that many Catholic schools taught how to sing the anthem after the Handover, although it was not mandatory.

He compared the issue with filial piety in that, if children are taking good care of their parents, then there is no need for a law forcing them to do so.

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.