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Hong Kong Lawmakers Poised to Approve Bill Criminalizing Disrespect of Chinese National Anthem

FILE - Hong Kong soccer fans turn their backs and boo the Chinese national anthem as they chant "Hong Kong is not China" during a World Cup qualifying soccer match between Hong Kong and Iran, in Hong Kong, Sept. 10, 2019.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam says the legislature will prioritize a bill that will make it a criminal offense to disrespect China’s national anthem.

Under the proposed law, anyone who uses the anthem for commercial purposes, or intentionally insults the anthem by booing or any other means, could face up to three years in prison and fines of more than $6,000.

The bill was introduced last year in response to fans regularly booing the anthem during soccer matches.

The measure is being given high priority now that a pro-Beijing lawmaker, Starry Lee, has taken control over a key legislative committee that scrutinizes bills and decides whether they can be put before a final vote. The panel had been run for several months by the committee’s deputy chairman, pro-democracy lawmaker Dennis Kwok. Beijing has accused Kwok of blocking numerous bills from going to the full legislature for a vote.

The possible passage of the anthem protest bill will likely rejuvenate the massive and often violent anti-government protests that engulfed the semi-autonomous city the last half of 2019. The demonstrations were initially sparked by a controversial extradition bill but evolved into a demand for greater democracy.

The protests came to halt after the coronavirus outbreak that began in mainland China late last year spread into Hong Kong, but have sporadically resumed in recent days as the outbreak subsided.

Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy under the concept of “one country, two systems,” since Britain handed the territory back to Beijing in 1997. But many Hong Kongers fear that autonomy is steadily being eroded by a central government that is increasingly meddling in its affairs.