Residents who fail to stand solemnly when the national anthem is played at restaurants or whilst they pass large outdoor shopping mall televisions will not be breaking the law, a top official has said.
The proposed outline of the national anthem law suggested a maximum fine of HK$50,000 and three years in jail for publicly and willfully insulting the anthem. It sparked concern that residents may accidentally violate the law.
At a Legislative Council panel on Friday, pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee asked Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip to explain whether people will violate the law if they do not stand up when the anthem is played in the two scenarios.
Nip said the law states that people must stand and deport themselves respectfully for the national anthem at occasions – as prescribed by the chief executive – where it is performed or sung. But if people are not at such occasions, it will not be regulated by the law.
“If you respect the anthem, there is no need to worry, you will not accidentally violate the law,” he said.
Nip said the suggested occasions to play the anthem include flag raising ceremonies at the Golden Bauhinia Square, on July 1 Hong Kong SAR Establishment Day, October 1 National Day and September 3 Victory Over Japan Day.
In a nod to the beginning of March of the Volunteers, Hacken Lee’s 1998 hit The Football Chronicles begins with the words “arise,” sung in Mandarin. However, residents may receive the maximum sentence for publicly and wilfully altering the lyrics or the score of the national anthem.
Nip was asked by lawmaker Alvin Yeung if residents will violate the law by playing the song. Nip replied: “I don’t see any problem with the song.”
Lawmaker Michael Tien said he was concerned about people with “ulterior motives” playing the anthem at occasions that are not prescribed in the law, such as during a filibuster at the legislature, a rally or a march.
“Do other people have to stand up? If they don’t, will they violate the law? But of course I am very concerned about the person playing the anthem,” Tien said.
Nip said people with “ulterior motives” will also be regulated by the law to see if they publicly and willfully insulted the anthem.
Lawmaker Claudia Mo asked if it was possible to remove or reduce the punishments in the law.
She said there were no national anthem laws in the UK and the US, and the maximum punishment in France in its law was only six months in jail. She said the maximum penalty of three years in jail was “very shocking.”
But Nip said it was unlikely to happen.
She also asked if residents would violate the law if they rolled their eyes when the anthem is played – referring to a recent well-known gaffe by a Chinese reporter – or if they sang the anthem in Cantonese.
Nip said it would have to depend on the situation and the evidence.