Concern is growing about whether the public will be consulted as the government moves a step closer to legislating a national anthem law, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The law, which took effect on Oct. 1 in mainland China, punishes anyone who disrespects the national anthem, the March of the Volunteers.
On Saturday, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed a proposal to include the new law in the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini constitution.
That means Hong Kong will legislate its version of the law and implement it, which is expected soon.
The government said in a statement on Saturday the law will be applied in Hong Kong by way of appropriate legislation consistent with the constitutional and legal regime of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
It also said the government will carefully consider the views of the public and members of the Legislative Council.
However, it did not say whether it will conduct a public consultation on the matter, raising concern among pan-democrats and others in legal circles that Hongkongers’ freedom of speech may end up being curbed.
University of Hong Kong law professor Albert Chen Hung-yee, a member of the Basic Law Committee, said public consultation is unlikely because implementing a national law through local legislation is not within the scope of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.
As such, what Hong Kong people could do is express their opinions to lawmakers when the Legislative Council deliberates on the measure, Chen said.
He said the Hong Kong version of the national anthem law should be more specific about what actions constitute a criminal offense and that it should be more detailed than the mainland version.
Expressing his concern that freedom of speech in Hong Kong might be affected by the new law, Hong Kong Bar Association former chairman and senior counsel Paul Shieh Wing-tai urged the government to conduct a public consultation before enacting it.
He said the wording of the original version is not precise enough and therefore worrisome.
Lawmaker James To Kun-sun from the Democratic Party said the government should come up with a draft of its version first and gather public opinions before making any changes and sending it to Legco for deliberations.
Executive Council member Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun called on the public not to complicate the issue, saying the local legislation is only meant to get Hong Kong people to show respect for the national anthem.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the government wants the law to be legislated as soon as possible but added there is no timeline.
Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah said the Leisure and Cultural Services Department under his bureau will be involved in enforcing the law.
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