Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that it is very difficult to give a definition of what constitutes an insult to the national anthem.

The National Anthem Bill was published in the official gazette last Friday, and will be submitted next Wednesday to the Legislative Council for the first and second reading.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: GovHK.

Pro-democracy lawmakers have said that the government’s proposed law does not clearly set out what constitutes “insulting” the anthem. Under the proposal, the maximum penalty for insulting the anthem in public or online is a HK$50,000 fine and three years behind bars.

Lam said on Tuesday ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting that she hoped the public would respect the national anthem. She said this was the aim of the proposed law.

“If people respect the national anthem, then they do not have to be worried about the impact of the law,” she said. “It has some regulations, but these only regulate against intentional insults to the national anthem at public events.”

“As to what counts as an insult, I believe this is common sense. It is very difficult to state clearly what an insult is,” she added.

“But I believe we are all very rational. I do not hope that because we legislated the law,  someone will perform all kinds of acts to test whether they count as insults to the national anthem. Everyone should respect their country and thus legislating the law is the natural thing to do.”

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The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress passed a motion in November 2017 to insert the new national anthem law into the Annex III of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution. The move followed incidents of Hong Kong football fans booing the anthem before matches. The government then drafted the bill to legislate the law locally.

Lam said that the Hong Kong government has the constitutional duty to legislate the law locally and that it is a practice in respect of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle.

“Hong Kong is a common law area. We must consider the spirit of the common law in drafting the contents of the national anthem law,” she said.

Democratic Party chair and lawmaker Wu Chi-wai said Lam’s remarks exacerbate the public’s concerns over the national anthem law.

“Carrie Lam’s so-called common sense means she will continue to legislate the law with these very vague definitions,” he said on Tuesday. “The Hong Kong government should explain all the definitions clearly and there should not be any unclear parts [to the law].”

Kris Cheng

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.