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Hong Kong: Arrests over China anthem protest at World Cup qualifier condemned

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Three arrested after police reportedly filmed spectators’ behaviour as China’s national anthem was played during Hong Kong v Iran football match in the Hong Kong Stadium

Since 2020, ‘insulting’ China’s anthem is punishable by up to three years in prison

‘Once again in Hong Kong a thoroughly peaceful act of protest is met with a heavy-handed police response - Sarah Brooks

Responding to the arrests of three people accused of “insulting” China’s national anthem by turning their backs to the field and not standing up when it was played at a football match in Hong Kong yesterday, Sarah Brooks, Amnesty International’s China Director, said:

“Once again in Hong Kong a thoroughly peaceful act of protest is met with a heavy-handed police response via a repressive law - in this case the National Anthem Law - designed to muzzle freedom of expression.

“These arrests are the latest in a string of incidents that increasingly depict Hong Kong as a police state, where residents are closely monitored for even the most miniscule sign of dissent and then punished heavily. 

“People’s right to express feelings about national anthems and other state symbols is well protected by international human rights law. Yet in Hong Kong, to ‘insult’ China’s national anthem is a crime, even if it involves the simple act of remaining seated.

“Those arrested for ‘insulting’ China’s national anthem have been targeted solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and the case against them should be dropped immediately.”

Plainclothes police monitor spectators

Several people have been targeted for their peaceful activism in the city in recent weeks. On Thursday evening, police reportedly said three people were arrested at Hong Kong’s World Cup qualifying match against Iran because they “turned their backs towards the pitch and did not stand for the playing of the national anthem”. Local media reported plainclothes police officers were observing spectators and filming them as the Chinese national anthem was played at the 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium. 

Hong Kong’s National Anthem Law, passed in 2020, criminalises perceived “insults” to China’s national anthem and is punishable by up to three years in prison. All those arrested yesterday have been released on bail, pending investigation.

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