The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) has warned against the legislation of the national anthem law, saying it was unconstitutional and will lead to a chilling effect upon free speech.

In a statement published on Tuesday, the HKJA said that the law – currently in bill form and about to be sent to the Legislative Council – was contrary to the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitutional document. It also said Hong Kong’s bill was even stricter than its mainland counterpart, as it carries a maximum penalty of an HK$50,000 fine and up to three years’ imprisonment.

Flag-raising ceremony at the Gold Bauhinia Square. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“The HKJA is concerned that the national anthem law will create a chilling effect once implemented, and will harm the public’s right to free expression. Therefore the HKJA opposes the current bill,” the statement read.

In March, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau provided to the legislature an outline of the proposed content of the bill, and said it planned to submit it to the legislature for scrutiny before the end of July.

The outline for the law said that anyone who publicly and wilfully alters the lyrics or the score of the national anthem, performs or sings the national anthem in a distorted or derogatory manner, or insults the national anthem in any other manner, will be committing an offence.

Insufficient protection for media

The HKJA also noted that the bill did not include exemptions for media outlets, which may inadvertently fall foul of the law during news reporting.

Photo: HKFP.

The statement said that, unlike for libel or obscenity, there are no helpful precedents on the law surrounding the national anthem: “The bill did not explicitly mention media organisations relaying and broadcasting the footage of unlawful activities, and whether this falls into the definition of ‘insulting the national anthem.’”

The statement also criticised the bill for not complying with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), because it imposed an “unnecessary and disproportionate” restriction on human rights. The ICCPR is incorporated into Hong Kong law via Article 39(2) of the Basic Law.

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.