In Hong Kong, insulting China’s national anthem could soon be illegal

The World
Hong Kong fans cover their faces and boo during the Chinese national anthem, at a friendly soccer match between Hong Kong and Bahrain in Hong Kong, China, November 9, 2017.

The national anthem is something that lots of people have strong feelings about.

Jimmy Buffett found that out on Sunday when he sang the anthem ahead of the National Football Conference (NFC) Championship Game in New Orleans. Buffett was mocked on social media, and not only for his mic drop at the conclusion of his performance. 

But no one is seriously suggesting that Buffett be thrown in jail for his parrot-head version of "The Star Spangled Banner." Nor is anyone saying the singer ought to be deported, which is what President Donald Trump appeared to suggest last year about professional football players who took a knee during the anthem.

Related: Crackdown in Beijing: ‘Using Twitter is more dangerous than street demonstrations’

There’s a very different story playing out in Hong Kong, the former British colony that went back to China’s direct control in 1997.

Hong Kongers found guilty of disrespecting China’s national anthem could soon face up to three years in jail and a $6,000 fine.

China’s national anthem is titled, “March of the Volunteers,” and begins with the line, “Arise, we who refuse to be slaves!” Here’s an official video posted to a Chinese government web page. 

But here’s a scene that has played out at soccer games in Hong Kong. It shows fans in the crowd turning their backs and booing during the Chinese national anthem. 

It’s a pretty clear signal of disrespect, for sure. But in Hong Kong, freedom of speech is supposed to be protected.

A proposed law introduced Wednesday in the Hong Kong legislature would criminalize this sort of behavior. The process might take months, but the bill is expected to pass because pro-Beijing lawmakers are in firm control of the Hong Kong government.

“You can always express a lot of different opinion against the government,” said Holden Chow in an interview with the BBC. “It won’t get you into any trouble here in Hong Kong, because we have the freedom of speech.”  

Related: This Google engineer was asked to create a censored version of Google News for China. He refused. 

Chow is vice chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the largest Beijing loyalist party in the Chinese territory. He says the national anthem bill simply works like this.

“We are not compelling people to respect [the anthem]; all we do is deter people from showing disrespect,” Chow explained. 

Many Hong Kongers see the proposed law very differently. They say it’s too vague and represents yet another attack by Beijing on the idea of “one country, two systems.”

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