HONG KONG: A flag that reads ‘Hong Kong is not China’ is displayed by a local football fan outside the stadium in Hong Kong. A new law that punishes disrespect for China’s national anthem with up to three years’ imprisonment may also apply to Hong Kong and Macau. — AFP

BEIJING: China's largely rubber-stamp parliament is considering jail terms of up to three years for people who disrespect the national anthem or flag in public, while an existing anthem law will be applied in Hong Kong, state media said yesterday. Xi Jinping has ushered in new legislation aimed at securing China from threats both within and outside its borders since taking over as president in 2013, as well as presiding over a sweeping crackdown on dissent and free speech.

China passed a new law in September mandating up to 15 days in police detention for those who mock the "March of the Volunteers" national anthem, a law that also covers the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau. Parliament is now looking at whether to amend China's Criminal Law to include criminal penalties for disrespect of the national anthem, including intentionally distorting the lyrics or tune, Xinhua said.

The tougher penalties also apply to desecration of the national flag, or emblem, including burning, defacing or trampling on it in public, the report said. That, too, had previously been punishable by up to 15 days' detention. A draft amendment has been submitted for deliberation at a bi-monthly session of parliament's standing committee, which started on Monday. "Violators in this regard may face punishments of up to three years of imprisonment, according to the draft," it said.

It was not clear when the amendment might be passed but it could be at the end of the week, when parliament's standing committee closes its current session. The National Anthem Law, which went into effect on Oct 1, will also be included in an annex of Hong Kong's Basic Law, or mini constitution, Xinhua added, though it's not clear if that will include three-year jail terms.

The national anthem law has fuelled concern in Hong Kong, whose residents have grown nervous over China's perceived encroachment of the city's autonomy following such events as the disappearance of booksellers who later emerged in mainland Chinese custody. In 2015, Hong Kong football fans booed the Chinese anthem during a World Cup qualifier, prompting a fine for the territory's football association from world body FIFA.

"In recent years, incidents of disrespecting the national anthem had occurred in Hong Kong, challenging the bottom line of the principle of 'one country, two systems' and social morality and triggering rage among Chinese including most Hong Kong residents," said Zhang Rongshun, deputy head of parliament's Legislative Affairs Commission, according to Xinhua. "It is urgent and important to apply the national anthem law in Hong Kong, in a bid to prevent and handle such offences." The Asian Football Confederation yesterday warned the Hong Kong Football Association about their fans' behavior at a match against Malaysia on Oct 10 in Hong Kong, where some booed the national anthem. - Reuters