Hong Kong's legislature Thursday passed a controversial law to forbid ridicule of the Chinese national anthem amid widespread opposition.
The move came on the 31st anniversary of the crackdown on the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement, with activists defying a police ban to hold commemorations in a downtown park where a mass gathering has been held for 30 years.
The national anthem law passed shortly before 5 p.m. local time, with 41 voting for it and 1 voting against it, after pro-democracy lawmakers were ejected for staging a noisy protest. The law was passed quickly among largely pro-Beijing lawmakers while pro-democracy legislators shouted “A murderous state stinks forever” after the third reading of the bill resumed following a pause of four hours.
The chair of the session ordered a suspension around 1 p.m. local time after two pro-democracy lawmakers, Eddie Chu and Ray Chan, were ejected from the council chamber after staging a protest. They rushed to the front of the chamber holding placards and threw pungent liquid in protest and were led away quickly. They said earlier they would use any means to stop the national anthem bill from passing. Police who inspected the scene said they would not rule out arrests.
All of the 21 amendments raised by the pro-democracy lawmakers to limit the power of the proposed law were voted down earlier by the pro-Beijing lawmakers, who hold a majority in the legislature. Critics worried the broad definitions of terms like “insult” and “derogatory” in the law could curb freedom of expression in the city.
Under the new anthem law, offenses are punishable with a fine of $6,500 and up to three years in jail. The bill also mandates schools to include the anthem in their curriculum to teach students “the history and spirit of the national anthem.” The law prohibits behavior “insulting” or misusing the Chinese national anthem, including “publicly and intentionally” altering its lyrics or score, and playing or singing it in a “distorted or disrespectful way.”
The passage of the law came amid Beijing's plans to impose sweeping national security laws on Hong Kong to prevent and punish “acts and activities” that threaten national security, including advocacy of secession, subversion and terrorism and foreign interference. China insisted that such laws were necessary to halt often violent anti-government protests in Hong Kong, which started a year ago. The movement was sparked by a controversial extradition law which could see individuals sent to mainland China for trial.
Source : VOA