17 October 2019
The Hong Kong government has come under fire for proposing an extended time limit for filing cases against people who break the upcoming national anthem law. Photo: HKEJ
The Hong Kong government has come under fire for proposing an extended time limit for filing cases against people who break the upcoming national anthem law. Photo: HKEJ

Why pan-dems have fresh concern over the national anthem bill

After more than one year, the government finally unveiled details of the national anthem bill on Wednesday, with Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen taking the initiative to address a press conference and explain the finer points of the bill.

The attention of the public and the media is now focused almost entirely upon a provision in the bill that only came to light yesterday, which is, that the government proposes that the statute of limitations for pressing criminal charges against those who violate the law be set at two years.

The proposal has drawn fire from the pan-democratic camp, with members questioning why the anthem law should have longer period in relation to application of statute of limitations when such clause for the existing National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance only stands at six months.

Expressing its concern, the Democratic Party has dubbed the national anthem bill as being “four-times spicier”.

Some in the government have sought to explain the matter, saying the extension of the statute of limitations period for the anthem law was just a technical change made at the request of law enforcement.

It is because, they added, law enforcement agencies have pointed out that investigation of cases takes time, especially when a case involves multiple offenders or is associated with the internet.

As authorities may take extra time to investigate and collect evidence, they should be in a position to press charges for law violations that occurred during a two-period prior to the filing of charges.

The government sources stressed that the proposed rule is absolutely not intended to create a chilling effect among members of the public.

When the administration first proposed the legislative initiative last year, it had assured that the national anthem law won’t have retrospective effect.

In December last year, when there was talk about the clause that the national anthem must be played during oath-taking ceremonies of principal officials, members of the judiciary and members of the legislature, the pro-democracy camp had immediately raised concern, fearing that the new law could be used as a fresh tool to disqualify whoever Beijing doesn’t like.

A source in political circles has, however, dismissed such worries, while pointing to the exact wording of the clause, which is that performing the national anthem should be an integral part of any official oath-taking ceremony.

Besides, he doubted if any lawmaker-elect would in future still dare to risk disqualification by breaking rules during Legislative Council oath-taking ceremonies, given the fate suffered by errant lawmakers in the recent past.

With regard to the overall bill, it is said that the Hong Kong government had been in frequent discussions with Beijing on the matter over the past year, going back and forth on key clauses, before arriving at the final version of the bill.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 10

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.