Hong Kong: Proposed National Anthem Law threat to freedom of expression

A controversial bill has been introduced in Hong Kong this month that would make disrespecting the Chinese national anthem a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) are concerned the law would impose restrictions on freedom of expression and press freedom.

Pro-democracy activists protest against the National Anthem Law that was tabled in Hong Kong parliament in January 2019. Credit: Anthony WALLACE/AFP

The National Anthem Bill was tabled to the Legislative Council of Hong Kong for a first and second reading on January 23, 2019. The HKJA is concerned that the proposed articles in the law do not contain any exemption clauses that would protect journalists from prosecution if they report the activities and events that may violate the law.  Whether the media that reprint or replay the materials would bear legal responsibility is not clearly stated which could lead to media self-censorship to avoid potential prosecution

The HKJA have expressed its concerns that, “the implementation of the National Anthem Law would cause [a] chilling effect and thus damages freedom of expression.” In June last year the HJKA declared that there are not enough protections for the media in Hong Kong.

The IFJ said: “The tabling of the National Anthem Law shows that the government has failed to listen to the concerns voiced by key groups including HKJA. Engaging with stakeholders is vitally important to ensure that laws support rather than curb freedom of expression. The Hong Kong government, as stated in the Hong Kong Basic Law Article 39, and stated in International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Article 19, has an obligation to protect freedom of expression in Hong Kong. We call on the Hong Kong Government to ensure that freedom of the press is guaranteed, regardless of the new legislation.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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