Pro-democracy activists stage flash mob protest outside HK’s Legislative Council during first reading of Chinese national anthem law

25-Jan-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Pro-democracy activists from a youth group staged a guerilla protest at government headquarters on Wednesday, unfurling a black banner against a bill being tabled in the legislature to outlaw abuse of China’s national anthem.

While lawmakers finished the first reading of the bill without incident in the Legislative Council, the government condemned and reported to police the flash mob protest outside in the public square by Demosisto leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung and fellow activists.

The group walked into the area popularly known as “Civic Square” then rushed past unsuspecting security guards to unfurl a banner declaring “Freedom not to sing praises”. It was over within a few minutes after minor scuffles with security and they left without further drama.

Security guards, initially caught unprepared, managed to remove the banner quickly.

In a statement condemning the protest, the administration said it had already reported it to police, who were investigating.

“The government respects people’s right to express their views but has to ensure it can operate effectively, safely and smoothly at the same time,” the statement read. “The flag post podium in the East Wing forecourt is not open for public protests.”

Demosisto party chair Ivan Lam Long-yin said: “We are against the national anthem law, which would curtail the freedom of expression and have the city coercing citizens into expressing loyalty to the regime.

“The government should withdraw the bill and launch a public consultation.”

The bill, presented to Legco in the afternoon and expected to be passed by July, holds up March of the Volunteers as the symbol of China in Hong Kong and introduces a maximum fine of HK$50,000 (US$6,410) and three years in prison as penalties for publicly and intentionally insulting the anthem, whether through the use of its lyrics or score.

It would include giving police up to two years to investigate offenders and requiring students to sing and study the song at school.

Shortly after 1pm, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen entered the Legco chamber and tabled the bill.

Pan-democrats greeted him with placards reading: “Against anthem law. Safeguard freedom of speech”.

Some chanted the same words as Nip started his speech, but quietened down after being warned by Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen.

Nip said the principle of the bill was to maintain the purpose and intent of the mainland’s National Anthem Law, to fully reflect its spirit and to preserve the dignity of the national anthem, while taking into account Hong Kong’s common law system.

“Citizens with no intent to insult the national anthem would not contravene the law inadvertently,” Nip said. “I believe most citizens do respect the national anthem and their daily lives would not be affected.”

But Wong voiced concern that the bill meant another form of national education in schools, instilling patriotism in the city’s youth.

Other pan-democrats and pro-democracy groups echoed those worries.

The Labour Party’s Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said: “The government said the primary aim of the bill was to promote respect for the anthem… Such respect can only be earned from citizens, not coerced through a bill which would curtail freedoms.”

The Hong Kong Music Teachers Union also raised concerns for freedoms of artistic creation and expression.

Next to the pan-democrats were members of the Defend Hong Kong Campaign. Waving national and Hong Kong flags, they voiced support for the legislation.

Pro-establishment lawmakers including Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, and Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, received their letter and thanked them for their support.

The bill will be handed to a committee for scrutiny before it is expected to resume second reading and be tabled for final reading and a vote by July.

With its predominant membership in the legislature, the pro-establishment camp is expected to ensure Martin Liao Cheung-kong and Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan become chair and vice-chair of the committee.

Both Liao and Cheung are executive councillors, advisers to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.


Category: Hong Kong

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