China considers three-year jail term for insulting national anthem

Rules may also apply in Hong Kong and Macau, sparking fears of greater encroachment

Hong Kong fans hold a protest banner and turn their backs during the Chinese national anthem during their Asian Cup qualifier against Malaysia  on October 10th. Photograph: Bobby Yip/Reuters

Hong Kong fans hold a protest banner and turn their backs during the Chinese national anthem during their Asian Cup qualifier against Malaysia on October 10th. Photograph: Bobby Yip/Reuters

 

China’s parliament is considering jail sentences of up to three years for anyone caught disrespecting the national anthem, and may apply the decision in Hong Kong and Macau too.

The new law chimes with growing nationalist sentiment in China, allied to the rise of President Xi Jinping to an extraordinary degree of power at a Communist Party congress last month. Mr Xi has made his “China Dream” of national rejuvenation a central part of policy.

China passed legislation, the National Anthem Law, on October 1st making it a criminal offence to mock the “March of the Volunteers” and prescribing 15 days in detention for anyone caught jeering the song.

Now the National People’s Congress (NPC), which meets once a year but which has bimonthly standing committees to give rubberstamp approval to draft amendments to the law, has proposed increasing the penalty for mocking the anthem, the state news agency Xinhua reported.

“Violators in this regard may face punishments of up to three years of imprisonment, according to the Bill,” Xinhua reported.

The law has sparked fears in Hong Kong of growing encroachment by Beijing on the city-state’s autonomy, which is unique on Chinese soil.

The territory is permitted internet freedom and a free media, but the central government is increasingly keen to stamp its authority on Hong Kong, especially since events like the “Umbrella Revolution” of 2014 where the streets were occupied by democracy demonstrators.

There are also some who seek independence for Hong Kong, something Beijing will never tolerate. Mr Xi has warned activists against crossing the “red line” of central authority.

According to the Bills, the National Anthem Law comes under legislation on defence, foreign affairs and other matters not covered by the usual terms of the Basic Law, the legal framework introduced after the reversion to Chinese rule in 1997 guaranteeing autonomy for Hong Kong.

Instead, the special rules are national laws to be applied in Hong Kong and the former Portuguese colony of Macau, which reverted to Chinese rule a year later.

“To safeguard the authority of the national anthem – one of the national symbols – is to safeguard the authority of the state, the people and the Chinese nation,” said Zhang Rongshun, deputy director of the legislative affairs commission of the NPC standing committee.

The new rules bring treatment of the anthem into line with laws criminalising desecration of China’s national flag, or the national emblem.

This week the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) warned Hong Kong’s football association, the HKFA, to keep its fans in line after they jeered the national anthem during an Asian Cup qualifying win over Malaysia.

In 2015, the HKFA was fined when Hong Kong fans booed during a World Cup qualifier against China.