HONG KONG:Hong Kong’s government risks reigniting last year’s political unrest by pushing ahead with a controversial bill outlawing insults to China’s national anthem, opposition lawmakers said Tuesday.
Pro-democracy lawmakers warned history was repeating itself, noting that the fast-tracking of a bill last year to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland was the spark that lit seven straight months of pro-democracy protests.
On Tuesday Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam — a pro-Beijing appointee — said the national anthem bill would now be “given priority”.
But opposition figures said such a move would inflame anger in a city still splintered by divisions after last year’s protests.
“We urge her (Lam) to revisit the whole thing and learn a lesson and hopefully to rethink and reconsider whether it is a suitable time to discuss these very sensitive political matters at this moment,” pro-democracy lawmaker Tanya Chan told reporters at a gathering by opposition lawmakers.
Chan added that the city is now in a “very delicate and sensitive situation”.
Next month marks the first anniversary of the start of the huge demonstrations that convulsed Hong Kong and soon morphed into weekly battles between police and protesters.
The extradition bill was belatedly withdrawn but by that point swathes of the city were in revolt against Beijing‘s rule following years of rising fears that the city’s freedoms were being stifled.
More than 8,000 people have since been arrested, many of them high school students.
Both Lam and Beijing have dismissed protesters’ demands for an amnesty for the people arrested, an inquiry into police conduct and universal suffrage.
Mass arrests and the coronavirus pandemic ushered in four months of enforced calm but small protests have bubbled up in the last fortnight as the city makes impressive headway against the virus and eases social distancing measures.
On Sunday — two days after virus restrictions on gatherings were eased and bars and gyms allowed to reopen — riot police arrested 230 people roaming in shopping malls and on the streets for flash-mob singing rallies.
Disrespecting or insulting the national anthem is banned in China.
Beijing wants Hong Kong, which maintains certain liberties unseen on the mainland, to pass a similar law — particularly after the city’s football fans started routinely booing it at matches.
The current draft would ban distorting, disrespecting and insulting the national anthem with up to three years in jail and fines for offenders.