The government said Tuesday that it will put the controversial National Anthem Bill on top of the list of 10 government bills to be tabled in the full Legislative Council on May 27.
The planned legislation would ban “insults” against the national anthem. According to the bill, anyone found guilty of misusing or insulting the March of the Volunteers would face a fine of up to HK$50,000 (US$6,451) and three years in prison.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said in a letter to lawmakers that the bill should be given priority, as it will expire if it isn’t passed by the summer recess in July.
Civic Party legislator Tanya Chan, who is the convenor of the pro-democracy camp, questioned what is so urgent about the National Anthem Bill. She said now is not the time to discuss such a contentious issue and she urged the government to rethink its move to push the bill through.
Leung Che-cheung, a lawmaker of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) and a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said he would have to skip the annual national meeting of the CPPCC, which will begin on May 21, and stay in Hong Kong to vote on the National Anthem Bill.
A total of 12 pro-establishment lawmakers may have to skip the “two sessions” and stay in Hong Kong in late-May for the vote on the bill.
The National Anthem Bill and some other government bills were delayed as the Legislative Council’s House Committee failed to elect a new chairman for 2019/20. Last Friday, Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the DAB and the House Committee chairperson for 2018/19, occupied the chairman seat of the committee by force with the help of dozens of security guards.
Pan-democrats have said that last Friday afternoon’s meeting was illegal and that they would continue to contest Lee’s takeover of the proceedings, both inside and outside the Legco.
Political tensions in Hong Kong have been rising since the epidemic eased last month. Although the city saw no new local infections over the past 22 days, but a 66-year-old woman was reportedly found to be infected with Covid-19 on Tuesday. She had not traveled in the past three months.
Medical experts had said more social distancing and quarantine measures could be lifted if there were no new local infections in Hong Kong for 28 days.
Netizens have been calling for gatherings in districts including Central, Causeway Bay, Tai Po, Shatin and Ma On Shan at around 7:30 pm on Wednesday, which is Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s birthday. They said they plan to sing a birthday song with special lyrics written for Lam, as well as Glory To Hong Kong, which was composed by anti-extradition protesters last year.
Last Sunday, police were accused of intercepting and using pepper spray on reporters working in Mong Kok. They ordered the reporters to stop filming and squat down.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) and the Hong Kong News Executives’ Association (HKMEA) issued separate statements criticizing the police officers’ rude behaviour toward the media workers.
On Tuesday, Tang Ping-keung, the police commissioner, said a review of how the police officers had treated the media workers was needed, adding that officers should be more professional.
Tang said he planned to meet four media groups, including the HKJA and HKNEA, on May 21.
Meanwhile, the government said Tuesday that the next Legco elections are expected to take place on September 6 this year, while the nomination period for candidates is to run from mid to late-July.
The dates were revealed in a paper submitted to Legco by the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau.