Hong Kong Legislature Surrounded by Riot Police as Protesters Gather Against Anthem Bill
Hong Kong has ramped up its police presence ahead of the second reading of a bill that would make it a crime to abuse China’s national anthem.
Water-filled blocks have been set up, and riot police stationed to prevent any possible protests.
The reading arises days after China suggested executing a controversial national security law, triggering a burst of rebellion.
Experts described it as a direct effort to curtail the city’s unique liberties. However, the city’s leader Carrie Lam has rejected that the national security law – which would ban crime, secession, treason, and subversion – would diminish the rights of Hong Kongers.
If the anthem bill becomes law, anyone who mistreats or mocks China’s national anthem, the March of the Volunteers, would suffer a penalty of up to HK$50,000 (£5,237; $6,449) and up to three years in jail.
If it passes the second reading in the Legislative Council (Legco) on Wednesday, it could go to a third reading and an election early next month. Protesters have been obliged to besiege Legco and interrupt proceedings to deflect the reading. However, the large police presence seems to have achieved so far in preventing any large-scale rallies. It is not clear if a protest will go forward later.
Hong Kong does not have its own anthem, so the Chinese anthem is sometimes performed on occasions like football events. In recent years, the anthem has been continuously booed. The 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifier, for instance, saw thousands booing when the Chinese national anthem was played before the inauguration of the game.
Anti-mainland opinion remains high in Hong Kong, serviced primarily by a proposed bill last year that would have allowed criminal suspects to be deported to China. The law triggered months of frequently violent protests.
Last weekend saw the city’s first large-scale protests in months, with people opposing pandemic social distancing laws to march in a rally of the proposed security law.
The proposal is set to go to a vote this week and could be in power as early as the end of June. Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which has been in place in the city since it was given back to China in 1997 by the UK, promises it certain liberties like the right to protest.
There are concerns that the new law could threaten this autonomy and enable China to install its own law enforcement bureaus in Hong Kong, adjacent to the city’s own. A group of 200 senior politicians from around the world has declared a joint statement scrutinizing China’s strategy.