Hong Kong is ready to start legislating a local version of the national anthem law, which took effect on Oct. 1 last year on the mainland.
However, several controversial issues remain unresolved, such as whether to require primary and secondary schools to include the national anthem in the curriculum, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The law aims to punish anyone who disrespects the national anthem, the March of the Volunteers, in the mainland. Maliciously modifying the anthem’s lyrics or performing it in a derogatory manner as well as using it as background music in commercial advertisements or in public places are offenses under the law.
Based on the decision made by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on Nov. 4 last year, Hong Kong must add the new law into Annex III of the Basic Law, which lists applicable national laws, at the proper time, meaning the SAR will have to legislate its version of the law and implement it.
A source from the SAR government said a policy paper on the new law will be tabled at the Legislative Council as soon as next week.
The target is to finish the first reading of the bill in July before the summer recess begins, and the entire legislation work by the end of this year, the source said.
Legco’s panel on constitutional affairs is scheduled to discuss the legislation on March 23.
According to the source, the policy paper will not include details of the draft bill, although it will refer to the level of punishment set in the city’s existing National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance for those who play or sing the song in a distorted or disrespectful way in public, i.e., three years’ imprisonment and a fine of HK$50,000.
While Beijing demands the anthem be taught to primary and secondary school students nationwide as part of their patriotic education, the source said the government is still studying whether to do the same in Hong Kong.
In fact, the issue of putting national anthem in the curriculum of Hong Kong’s primary and secondary schools has been controversial. While lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, who represents the education functional constituency, said there is no need to follow suit, the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers said doing so can make the work of school management easier.
The Education Bureau said it is closely following the progress of the local legislation.
Following the enactment of the law, it said it will review curriculum arrangements and update teaching resources to educate students on the need to respect the national anthem while helping schools in promoting the study of the constitution and the Basic Law.
The main point is not whether requiring schools to teach the national anthem should be part of the law since there are already guidelines in place for them to follow, but to respond to the central government’s demand in relation to the national anthem law, the source said.
The local legislation will not be more stringent than the law enacted in the mainland, the source added.
Former secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, who is now a Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress, said the government could consider making a subsidiary legislation or setting non-binding guidelines to deal with the issue.
Starry Lee Wai-king, chairperson of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), agreed that setting guidelines for the teaching of the national anthem is appropriate as it is already being taught in primary and secondary schools.
As such, schools will not be punished for failing to meet the requirements.
Meanwhile, Democratic Party legislator James To Kun-sun wants the government to hold public consultations on the law.
To said it should gather as many opinions as possible without setting any prerequisites, and clarify what constitutes a violation of the law.
Worrying that future law enforcement may be subjective, Civic Party leader and lawmaker Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said it was necessary for the government to consult the public, particularly in clarifying what degrading the national anthem means.
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