Lawmakers in Hong Kong on Thursday passed a contentious bill that would make it a crime to mock China’s national anthem.
The law, which is seen as the latest effort by Beijing to assert its authority over the territory, would impose a maximum three-year prison sentence on anyone convicted of insulting the March of the Volunteers.
Open displays of defiance have become common in Hong Kong when the anthem is played at sporting and other public events, especially since mass pro-democracy protests erupted in the city last year.
Pro-democracy lawmakers boycotted the vote, which passed by a margin of 41-1.
The vote coincided with Hong Kong bracing for activities across the territory to remember the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, when authorities crushed mass protests in Beijing.
Organisers said they would defy a decision by police to ban the event for the first time, with officials citing worries about a potential resurgence of the coronavirus epidemic. Barriers were erected at Victoria Park to prevent people from gathering.
Hong Kong is the last place on Chinese government-controlled territory where large-scale memorial activities can be openly held. Every June 4 since 1990, hundreds of thousands of people have gathered for a candlelit vigil.
“We will insist that we have the right to light a candle inside Victoria Park,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the group that organises the annual memorial. “Though China is totally dark and brainwashing its own people, in Hong Kong we still will light a candle for those who sacrificed in 1989.”
Activists fear the recent decision by China’s parliament to impose a new national security law on Hong Kong, which may come into force by the end of this month, will make it illegal to hold open remembrances of Tiananmen.
“Given how broad national security is defined in China, it is quite likely the organisation of June 4 commemoration events is going to become increasingly difficult,” said Maya Wang at Human Rights Watch.
The National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament, inserted the national anthem law into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, or Basic Law, three years ago. But it would only come into effect once Hong Kong lawmakers passed their own version of the legislation.
The national security law, by contrast, will be imposed on Hong Kong by promulgation, denying LegCo an opportunity to modify it.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, travelled to Beijing on Wednesday for discussions with officials about the law. Speaking to reporters after her meetings, Ms Lam said some Hong Kong residents would be given a chance to air their views in seminars to be held on the mainland rather than in the city.
Formal passage of the national anthem and national security laws will further strain relations with the US. Donald Trump has threatened to revoke economic and trading privileges Hong Kong enjoys on the basis that its wide-ranging autonomy has been undermined by Beijing.
Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, on Wednesday met four former student leaders of the 1989 Beijing protests and asked how the US could “help China move towards democracy”, according to Wang Dan, a Tiananmen activist. Mr Wang said in a statement that he urged the Trump administration to insist on improved human rights conditions and an end to censorship in China in any future trade negotiations. Mr Wang has previously been barred from entering Hong Kong.