Hong Kong: National anthem law is an insult to freedom of expression

Responding to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council passing a law that makes it illegal to insult China’s national anthem, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia, Joshua Rosenzweig, said:

“People who ‘insult’ China’s national anthem could now be jailed for up to three years. But today the Hong Kong authorities have again insulted the right to freedom of expression in their latest attempt to criminalize peaceful dissent.

People who ‘insult’ China’s national anthem could now be jailed for up to three years. But today the Hong Kong authorities have again insulted the right to freedom of expression in their latest attempt to criminalize peaceful dissent.
Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia, Joshua Rosenzweig

“People’s right to express their different feelings about national anthems and other state symbols is well protected by international human rights law. This law’s broad and subjective provisions leave it open to wide interpretation and abuse.

“The passing of this odious bill is an ominous sign for the future of human rights in Hong Kong. With China’s ruthless national security law looming, the city’s rights and freedoms are under greater threat than ever before.”

The passing of this odious bill is an ominous sign for the future of human rights in Hong Kong. With China’s ruthless national security law looming, the city’s rights and freedoms are under greater threat than ever before.
Joshua Rosenzweig

Background

The national anthem law makes “insulting” or “misusing” the Chinese national anthem punishable by a fine of up to HK$50,000 (US$6,400) and a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment.

Since 2015, there have been several incidents of Hong Kong football fans booing or turning their backs when the Chinese national anthem is played at games. Such behaviour will be a criminal offence when the law comes into force on 12 June.

Under international human rights law, freedom of expression can protect ideas and speech that some may find offensive if they are not intended or likely to incite imminent violence. International human rights standards make clear that peaceful criticism of, or insult to, the nation or its symbols, even if offensive, does not constitute a threat to national security or justify prohibition on other grounds.