Anthem law must heed two systems

Editorial | Nov 2, 2017
The National People's Congress standing committee is stiffening the national anthem law that came into effect only recently.

In addition to the current provision for placing offenders under administrative detention for 15 days, the amendment makes offenders liable to three years in prison for showing disrespect.

That's scary.

The top legislature will also annex the amendment to the Basic Law for Hong Kong to enact locally. Fortunately, there is still a bit of wiggle room for the SAR to maneuver, because exactly how this will be implemented here will be subject to how the local legislation is to be written.

Will the same three years in the hoosegow be adopted locally? That would be the worst-case scenario - ignoring the fact that while Hong Kong is part of China, its historical and cultural background is unique from that of the motherland.

What locals fear most is the loss of their distinct values that define what the Fragrant Harbour is.

As Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung and his drafting unit prepare the bill to give local effect to the anthem law, they should find a balance that manifests full respect for the March of the Volunteers under the one- country principle, and embody the two- systems arrangement assured by the Basic Law.

It may be delicate, but it's achievable.

Copying the mainland version without giving due consideration to local conditions certainly isn't the way forward. An alternative that neither offends Beijing nor frightens the public would be the best-case scenario. Perhaps, Yuen had better deal with the matter with a relatively liberal mind.

There are plenty of examples to refer to - some more liberal, others more draconian.

The most liberal is in the United States, where footballers taking a knee while the Star-Spangled Banner was played, and President Donald Trump not putting his right hand over the heart were spared criminal charges after a barrage of criticisms. America is a country of the rule of law, right?

At the opposite end of the spectrum is China, which will have one of the most draconian after amending the anthem law to lock up offenders for a long time. Even if Hong Kong isn't prepared to rank itself among the most liberal ones, it doesn't have to put itself on a par with the toughest either, since many places also fall between extremes.

Overall speaking, wouldn't leniency be the better choice?

Earlier in the debate, pro- establishment radicals suggested making the local legislation retroactive, so that hundreds, or even thousands, of football fans could be jailed for booing when the March of the Volunteers was played at the start of matches.

These radicals may be forgiven as they - including some claiming to have received proper legal training - may lack the knowledge that under common law, criminal legislation can't be applied retroactively.

Could the "retroactive" demand have been made out of a strategic need in that it would make the establishment look lenient after giving up the demand?

If that's the case, then, sorry, this isn't leniency - for true leniency should be reflected in the legal text.

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December 2018