National anthem bill passes second reading in Legco amid protest

January 24, 2019 14:23
Demosistō members, led by Joshua Wong (left) and Ivan Lam, hold a rally at Civic Square to oppose the national anthem bill. Photo: Demosistō

The Legislative Council completed first and second readings of the controversial national anthem bill on Wednesday amid fierce protests lodged by pro-democracy activists.

Members of the political party Demosistō gathered at Civic Square, located at the east wing forecourt of the government headquarters in Admiralty, in the morning to oppose the Hong Kong version of the national anthem law, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

The law, which took effect in the mainland on Oct. 1, 2017, aims to promote respect for the national song, the March of the Volunteers. Offenders are likely to be criminally charged and put in jail.

After shouting and chanting slogans to express their opposition to the bill, some of the protesters broke into the area across the square and hung a black banner that reads “the right not to sing our praises” on the flagstaff platform despite warnings issued by security personnel at the scene.

A security guard who tried to stop the act ended up being injured in the ensuing chaos and sent to hospital for treatment, while the protesters left a few minutes later.

In a statement issued in the afternoon, the government condemned the intrusion by some Demosistō demonstrators.

A government spokesman said while the rights of the public to express their views should be respected, the effective, secure and smooth operation of the government offices should be safeguarded at the same time.

The flagstaff platform has never been part of the area specified for public meetings, the statement said.

Police are investigating the incident after receiving a report from the Administration Wing.

Demosistō accused the Administration Wing of abusing its power by trying to confiscate their protest paraphernalia and restricting free speech.

Demosistō chairman Ivan Lam Long-yin said he is worried that the national anthem law may require Hong Kong citizens to pledge allegiance to Beijing.

He said Hongkongers have the right to stay silent when the national anthem is played and should not be forced to display profound respect to the national flag and anthem.

Joshua Wong Chi-fung, the party's secretary-general, said his group will continue fighting for public attention to fight the national anthem bill in a non-violent fashion.

"Hong Kong citizens have the right to not be stern or ceremonious when facing the national anthem, and the government should not be able to dictate such kinds of behavior and thoughts," the group said in a social media post.

In his speech to lawmakers when moving the second reading of the national anthem bill, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said there is absolutely no need for members of the public to worry about "inadvertently contravening the law" if they have no intention to insult the national anthem and as such, the bill will not have any impact on the daily lives of the general public. 

After the second reading, the House Committee will set up a bills committee for further deliberations.

The legislation work is expected to be completed before the legislature takes its annual summer recess in July.

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