Freedom of speech under threat in China as new law bans anthem disrespect

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On Saturday, China’s parliament passed a legislative amendment which would determine disrespect to the national anthem as being punishable of up to three years in prison.

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress have added the amendment to the countries national law. The original legislation, effective from the 1st October of this year, mandated a fifteen-day sentence in police detention for anyone who mocked the anthem. Beijing have begun attempts to implement this legislation to the semi-autonomous, legally independent regions of Hong Kong and Macau. Hong Kong’s government, being dominated by Beijing loyalists, have started implementing it at local level.

The National Anthem Law determines that China’s national anthem, ‘The March of the Volunteers,’ can no longer be played as background music in public, or in private situations if it is deemed inappropriate. It is also barred from being played at weddings or parties. The official news outlet for China, Xinhua, report that those convicted of this crime may also lose their political rights.

“In recent years, incidents of disrespect against the national anthem have occurred in Hong Kong, challenging the bottom line of the principle of one country, two systems,” said Zhang Rongshun, the deputy director for the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, in a statement regarding its ongoing implementation in Hong Kong.

Such tension between China and Hong Kong were typified by the protests from Hong Kong soccer supporters in their World Cup qualifying match against Malaysia last month. Those protesting either booed or turned their back when the national anthem was playing. This was one of many acts against the national anthem within Hong Kong in the past few months. Soccer fans protesting the national anthem from Hong Kong (and Macau) has become a regular occurance, in response to Beijing’s continued attempts to assert authority over the regions.

Pro-democracy activists are fearful this legislation is a threat to freedom of speech. The new generation of young democracy advocates in Hong Kong are among the most prominent of the protesters, and some are calling for an eventual financial split in the future. This has further deepened the divide between Hong Kong and China.

Similar controversies have attracted mainstream media attention in the United States recently, as some National Football League players continue to kneel during the national anthem. President Donald Trump fiercly opposed the protests, and it has sparked divisions over issues of freedom of speech and patriotism.

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