Chief Executive Carrie Lam has praised the principal of the Hong Kong College of Technology for for removing two students who refused to stand up when the national anthem was played at a graduation ceremony on Monday.

During the ceremony held at the school’s Ma On Shan campus, two students did not stand up when March of the Volunteers was played. The host then announced that, as some of those present “disrespected the national anthem and broke regulations,” the procedure was unable to go on solemnly.

He then told the two students to leave the hall. A group of around ten students followed them out in protest. They did not receive their graduation certificates.

A student protesting at the ceremony.

Lam praised principal Chan Cheuk-hay’s handling of the incident when she spoke to the press after officiating the Hong Kong Awards for Industries event on Monday.

“The national anthem is the dignity of a country. Any behaviour that disrespects the national anthem should not be tolerated in Hong Kong.”

“Although we have not legislated the national anthem law yet, I hope the public can defend and respect the national anthem on their own accord,” she said.

“Especially at a situation as solemn as a graduation ceremony, principal Chan’s response – and him patiently explaining to relevant students afterwards why he had done so – I think it deserves our approval and recognition,” she added.

Principal Chan Cheuk-hay spoke with the students after the ceremony and told them that the Hong Kong College of Technology was a school that loved the country and loved Hong Kong long before 1997.

Principal Chan Cheuk-hay.

He said that the school had always flown the Chinese flag and never backed down from its patriotic stance, even when it was oppressed by the colonial government and their campus and subsidies were taken away, according to footage taken by Apple Daily.

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.

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.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.