HONG KONG – Dressed in red and armed with flags, fans of Hong Kong’s national football team politely applauded the Lebanese anthem while they waited to seize their moment.
As the Chinese national anthem “March of the Volunteers” boomed from the loudspeakers at Hong Kong Stadium, fans erupted into full-throated boos, some waving flags, others covering their faces.
Jeering the anthem has become almost routine at Hong Kong international matches since pro-democracy protests in 2014, but now with the prospect of a law that could bring a prison sentence, it’s becoming a more dangerous — and pointed — protest.
In October, China introduced a National Anthem Law, which punishes people who “disrespect” the song by up to 15 days in jail.
While it currently only applies on the mainland, it’s being adopted into Hong Kong’s statutes, and an amendment to the law which would extend the punishment to a maximum of three years is being considered by Beijing.
The law has become the latest flashpoint for those fearing growing Chinese encroachment on Hong Kong affairs, amid warnings it could contravene international conventions to which Hong Kong — but not China — is a signatory.
Passage of the local version of the law is not expected until next year, and is sure to meet with concerted protest from the city’s opposition pro-democracy movement.
Even some pro-government lawmakers have raised concerns about the severity of the Chinese law, which comes after a highly criticized move by officials to pursue prison terms for student protest leaders.
Those protesters — including well-known activist Joshua Wong — were granted leave to appeal their sentences to Hong Kong’s highest court earlier this month. That case will be heard in December.
Hong Kong politician Claudia Mo, an independent democrat who’s a member of the Legislative Council, told CNN that if the law is enacted in the city and people are punished for booing the anthem, their “frustration and anger will grow.”
“They will feel worse that they’re getting clamped down, that the government is behaving in a rather authoritarian way.”
She says the perception is the government “isn’t trying to solve problems, just punish people who act against these problems.”
This year marks 20 years since the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule in 1997, when, under the principle of “one country, two systems,” Beijing promised to preserve the rule of law, freedom of speech and the right to protest for 50 years. – CNN