China: Disrespecting anthem may bring jail

BEIJING: China‘s rubber-stamp legislature has made disrespecting the national anthem a criminal offence punishable by up to three years in prison. The law will also apply in Hong Kong and Macau but with punishments limited to 15 days.

The Standing Committee of the National People‘s Congress passed an amendment to the criminal law on Saturday outlining punishments for people found “seriously” disrespecting the national anthem in public.

The move follows Xi Jinping‘s appointment to a second five-year term as Communist Party leader, as he pursues a vision of achieving a “Chinese Dream” of a powerful, prosperous nation. It also comes as the anthem, March of the Volunteers, has in recent months been a political flashpoint in Hong Kong, where tensions are rising over Beijing‘s efforts to assert its authority over the territory.

According to the amendment passed on Saturday in Beijing, penalties include detention, imprisonment of up to three years and the deprivation of political rights. Such punishments previously applied to the desecration of the national flag and emblem in public, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The legislature also moved to apply a separate, recently passed law on the national anthem to Hong Kong and Macau, semiautonomous regions with separate legal systems.

Football fans in Hong Kong have booed the anthem when it is played at matches between the home team and teams from mainland China or other countries, leading to fines from Fifa, the sport‘s governing body.

Pro-democracy activists and lawmakers fear a national anthem law could be used to undermine freedom of speech in Hong Kong.

The National Anthem Law, which came into effect in October, stated that playing the anthem on occasions deemed improper, including funerals, or changing its wording or presenting it in a disrespectful manner could be punished with 15 days in detention. China‘s legislature adopted a decision to include the law in Hong Kong‘s and Macau‘s mini-constitutions, known in each territory as the Basic Law.

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