Hong Kong’s Legislative Council started voting on a controversial bill on Thursday that would make disrespecting China’s national anthem a criminal offence, amid heightened fears over Beijing’s tightening grip on the city.
The voting came just as people in Hong Kong were set to commemorate the bloody 1989 crackdown by Chinese troops in and around Tiananmen Square by lighting candles across the city later in the day. Police have banned the annual vigil in which the crackdown has been usually marked, citing the coronavirus outbreak.
A final vote on the bill is expected later on Thursday. The bill could punish those who insult the anthem with up to three years jail and/or fines of up to HK$50,000 ($6,450). It states that “all individuals and organisations” should respect and dignify the national anthem and play it and sing it on “appropriate occasions”.
Tensions in the Chinese-ruled city have ramped up after Beijing gave the green light last week to move ahead with national security laws to tackle secession, subversion and foreign interference. The move was quickly condemned by the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada, as well as international human rights groups and some business groups.
Breaking with their usual policy of political neutrality, HSBC and Standard Chartered banks gave their backing to the new law on Hong Kong on Wednesday.
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