Hong Kong: Tiananmen vigil defies ban as controversial anthem bill passes

Hong Kong citizens defied a police ban to mark the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre as the city’s legislature passed a law criminalising mockery of China’s national anthem. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today expressed its ongoing concern for the future of freedom of expression in Hong Kong as legislative controls continue to tighten China’s grip.

Activists hold a candlelit Tiananmen vigil in Victoria Park in Hong Kong on June 4, 2020. Credit: ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP

It was the first time that Hong Kong banned a vigil to mark the anniversary, primarily under the guise of Covid-19 controls. Thousands of Hong Kongers proceeded with the vigil on June 4 at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, under police surveillance.

After passing through Hong Kong’s Legislative Council yesterday, the controversial National Anthem Bill is set to take effect on June 12. The law prohibits “insult” or misuse of the Chinese national anthem with fines of up to HKD 50,000 (USD 6,450) and/or three years in jail.

Critics of the law say it will endanger freedom of expression in Hong Kong leaving it to government discretion to decide what is considered respectful. The anthem, March of the Volunteers, was written by Tian Han, who was jailed for political activism in the 1930s when he was inspired by the opening lines “Arise, you who refuse to be slaves”.

The passing of the anthem law coincided with moves by Beijing and Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, to force through sweeping national security rules in a bid to stamp out Hong Kong’s anti-government protests, which started a year ago. The proposed National Security Law will punish “acts and activities” that threaten national security, including secession, subversion and terrorism and foreign interference.

The IFJ said: “Since protests began in Hong Kong a year ago, the people of Hong Kong have stood up against what they see as an erosion of their fundamental freedoms and democracy. The IFJ urges the government of Hong Kong and Carrie Lam to consider carefully any moves that will risk the individual freedoms and democracy that makes Hong Kong an important economic and global player. Any move to implement the proposed national security legislation would be in direct conflict with China’s obligations under the joint declaration for Hong Kong, a legally binding treaty registered with the United Nations.”

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