US & World

Hong Kong ramps up security ahead of controversial bill reading

Riot police stand guard outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on May 27, 2020Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Thousands of police officers have been deployed across Hong Kong

Hong Kong has ramped up its police presence ahead of the second reading of a bill that would make it a crime to insult China’s national anthem.

Water-filled barriers have been put up and riot police deployed in an attempt to deter any possible protests.

The reading comes days after China proposed implementing a controversial national security law, triggering a burst of unrest.

Critics called it a direct attempt to curtail the city’s unique freedoms.

However, the city’s leader Carrie Lam has denied that the national security law – which would ban treason, secession, sedition and subversion – would curtail the rights of Hong Kongers.

Increasing anti-mainland sentiment

If the anthem bill becomes law, anyone who misuses or insults China’s national anthem, the March of the Volunteers, would face a fine of up to HK$50,000 (£5,237; $6,449) and up to three years in prison.

If it passes the second reading in the Legislative Council (Legco) on Wednesday, it could go to a third reading and a vote early next month.

Protesters have been urged to surround Legco and disrupt proceedings in an attempt to derail the reading.

However, the heavy police presence appears to have succeeded so far in deterring any large-scale protests. It is not clear if a protest will go ahead later.

Image caption Barriers have been put up in front of the city’s legislative council building
Image caption The nearby Admiralty Centre has also been cordoned off by police

Hong Kong does not have its own anthem – and so the Chinese anthem is sometimes played at events like football matches.

In recent years, the anthem has been booed frequently. The 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifier, for example, saw thousands booing when the Chinese national anthem was played before the start of the game.

Anti-mainland sentiment remains high in Hong Kong, fuelled especially by a proposed bill last year that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to China.

The bill triggered months of increasingly violent protests.

Last weekend saw the city’s first large-scale protests in months, with people defying pandemic social distancing rules to march in protest of the proposed security law.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Huge protests broke out in Hong Kong this weekend

The proposal is set to go to a vote this week, and could be in force as early as the end of June.

Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which has been in place in the city since it was handed back to China in 1997 by the UK, guarantees it certain freedoms like the right to protest.

There are fears that the new law could undermine this autonomy, and potentially allow China to install its own law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong, alongside the city’s own.

A group of 200 senior politicians from around the world have issued a joint statement criticising China’s plan.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also condemned the plans, describing them as a “death knell” for the city’s freedoms. The UK, Australia and Canada have also expressed their “deep concern”.

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