The government has suggested a maximum penalty of HK$50,000 and three years in jail for anyone breaking the upcoming national anthem law.
The outline for the law said that anyone who publicly and wilfully alters the lyrics or the score of the national anthem, performs or sings the national anthem in a distorted or derogatory manner, or insults the national anthem in any other manner, will be committing an offence.
“Our legislative principle is to maintain the purpose and intent of the National Anthem Law to fully reflect its spirit and to preserve the dignity of the national anthem, so that our citizens would respect the national anthem, whilst taking into account our common law system and the actual circumstances in Hong Kong,” the bureau said.
The outline also proposed that the national anthem must not be used in trademarks or commercial advertisements, with violators liable to an HK$50,000 fine.
It also said the anthem should not be used at private funerals, as background music in public venues, or on other occasions prescribed by the chief executive. Any violation will be liable to a HK$5,000 fine.
The performance and singing of the national anthem shall follow the official lyrics and score, and it must not be performed or sung in a manner harmful to the dignity of the national anthem, according to the bureau.
When the national anthem is performed or sung, everyone present must stand and comport themselves respectfully, and must not display any behaviour that is disrespectful to the national anthem, the outline said.
￼Democracy Party leader Wu Chi-wai said he was concerned that the unclear definition of what it means to insult the national anthem may cause disputes.
“If any protesters argue with or make hand gestures at anyone playing the national anthem, even if they were not targeting the national anthem, they may be charged as well,” he said.
“Creative freedom and freedom of expression are also greatly limited if the national anthem cannot be used as material for creation.”
Wu suggested that the government should issue a white paper consultation to engage public opinion.
A government source told RTHK that the internet will also be seen as a public area, and offences will apply. The source also said the key in determining whether insult was involved was the intention of the act, and added that Hong Kong courts are skilled in determining intention.
The bill will include a section saying that secondary and primary schools should teach students to sing the national anthem and understand its history and spirit. They should also teach students the proper etiquette to observe while the anthem is being played.
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung told reporters that there was no penalty for schools in the mainland version of the law. He added that its implementation in international schools will be discussed later.
Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said most schools already teach the anthem: “We do not feel legislation is necessary.”
BPA party lawmaker Priscilla Leung said the document did not mention retroactive power and it was unnecessary to add when discussing the law.
She urged lawmakers not to filibuster during the legislation process: “It may send the wrong message that people can insult the national anthem before the law passes.”
According to the bureau, the chief executive shall prescribe the occasions where the national anthem must be performed and sung, and the government should encourage citizens and organisations to perform and sing the national anthem on appropriate occasions.
The outline also includes articles stipulating that broadcasters regulated by the government shall actively publicise the national anthem and promote understanding of the appropriate etiquette.
Government announcements will be broadcast on television and radio in the second quarter of this year to promote the background of the national anthem, as well as the etiquette for the performance and singing of the national anthem.
If necessary, the chief executive may prescribe important national statutory holidays and commemorative days on which the national anthem shall be broadcast.