HONG KONG (AP) – A Hong Kong legislative debate was suspended Thursday afternoon ahead of an expected vote on a contentious national anthem bill after pro-democracy lawmakers staged a protest, with one dropping a pot of pungent liquid in the chamber.
Raising a sign that said â€œA murderous regime stinks for ten thousand years,â€ lawmaker Ray Chan walked to the front with the pot hidden inside a Chinese paper lantern. When security guards tried to stop him, he dropped the lantern and the pot, and was ejected from the meeting. Another lawmaker who accompanied him in protest was also ejected.
The chamber was evacuated, shortly before police and firemen were called in to investigate the incident.
Pro-democracy lawmakers see the bill, which would make it illegal to insult the Chinese national anthem, as an infringement on freedom of expression and the greater rights that residents of the city have compared to mainland China. Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, under a â€œOne Country, Two Systemsâ€ agreement that guarantees the city a high degree of autonomy until 2047.
The pro-Beijing majority says the anthem law is necessary for Hong Kong citizens to show appropriate respect for the anthem. Those found guilty of intentionally abusing the â€œMarch of the Volunteersâ€ would face up to three years in prison and fines of up to 50,000 Hong Kong dollars ($6,450).
The contentious debate over the national anthem bill also comes as Chinaâ€™s ceremonial national legislature formally approved a decision last week to enact a national security law for Hong Kong that could see Chinese security agents posted in the city.
The national security law is aimed at curbing subversive activity, with Beijing pushing for it after a monthslong pro-democracy protest movement at times saw violent clashes between police and protesters.
While experts have warned that the law could imperil Hong Kongâ€™s status as one of the worldâ€™s best places to do business, at least two banks with a strong Asian presence have publicly backed the decision.
HSBC said in a Chinese social media post that it â€œrespects and supports all laws that stabilize Hong Kongâ€™s social order,â€ while Standard Chartered said it believed the national security law would â€œhelp maintain the long-term economic and social stability of Hong Kong.â€
Opponents of the anthem bill and the national security law see them as signs of Beijingâ€™s tightening control over the territory.
Beijing began pushing for the anthem law after Hong Kong soccer fans jeered the national anthem at international matches in 2015. As anti-government protests engulfed Hong Kong last year, thousands of fans booed loudly and turned their backs when the anthem was played at a World Cup qualifier match against Iran in September. FIFA later fined the Hong Kong Football Association over the incident.
The legislative session on Thursday coincided with June 4, the 31st anniversary of Chinaâ€™s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijingâ€™s Tiananmen Square.
Before debate began, pro-democracy lawmakers stood in silence to mark the anniversary and put up signs on their desks that said â€œDo not forget June 4, the hearts of the people will not die.”