Baroness Natalie Bennett said: “Free speech is under threat in Hong Kong and the UK government should not remain silent.” The former leader of the Green Party in England and Wales outlined the apparent irony that a song inspired by those who dedicated themselves to strive for freedom from Japanese colonialism could now be used to round up the youth of Hong Kong who equally stand for self-determination, democracy and the rule of law. Baroness Bennett said: “If the bill passes, anyone who publicly and intentionally insults the anthem could face a fine of up to HK$50,000 (£5,200) and three years in prison.”
She warned that if the law is being rolled out under the guidance of the watchful eye from Beijing it is a breach of Hong Kong’s supposed autonomy.
She said: “Not only does the bill undermine basic rights, but the method by which it is being created under the direction of China’s National People’s Congress is also clearly in breach of Hong Kong’s supposed high degree of autonomy, guaranteed under the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984.”
Hong Kong governor Carrie Lam has struggled to define the exact details of the law, leading many to suggest it would be open to abuse as the ambiguity over what is deemed “insulting” to the national anthem would be decided upon in court-rooms propped up by Beijing.
Baroness Bennett said: “This kind of legal ambiguity lends itself to abuse by those in positions of power.”
Hong Kong authorities have reportedly been ordered to consider a bill which would criminalise publicly insulting the Chinese national anthem as a “priority”, which suggests there is political motivation behind this move.
The international community has already fiercely criticised the bill.
Canadian deputy shadow foreign minister Garnett Genius said: “It is a clear threat to Hong Kong’s basic freedoms.
“To impose a three-year prison sentence for ‘insulting’ the national anthem is an appalling violation of freedom of expressions, and is not in line with the basic principles of the rule of law.”
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Kevin Carrico, a senior lecturer in Chinese Studies at Monash University in Australia, said: “At a deeper level, the bill is symbolic of Beijing’s desire for ever greater control over the city of Hong Kong, producing a vicious cycle in which increasingly heavy-handed rule is rationalised, this is likely to only provoke ever further protests and tension.”
The move to criminalise insulting the national anthem comes as differences between the pro-Beijing and pro-democracy camps in Hong Kong sharpened.
The bill to allow suspects to be extradited to mainland China to face trials was eventually withdrawn.
Demonstrators hope for the same for this next Beijing inspired erosion of Hong Kong’s authority.
Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, said the chief secretary and other officials have written to pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee to consult with her on the resumption of second readings of the national anthem bill.
Carrie Lam said: “Two of the bills have been delayed for a very long time, and they are the national anthem bill and the patents amendment bill.
“So we do expect these two bills to be given priority in the resumption of second readings by the Legislative Council.”
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