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The national of the HK Special Administrative Region flags are raised to the sound of the national anthem during a ceremony to mark the National Day on Oct 1, 2018 in HKSAR. [Photo/VCG]

Insulting the national anthem is a crime to be punishable by up to three years in prison and an HK$50,000 ($6,400) fine, under the National Anthem Bill released by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government on Wednesday.

The Legislative Council will deliberate on the bill on Jan 23, said Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen. The bill follows China"s National Anthem Law, which took effect in October 2017.

"Our legislative principle is to fully reflect the purpose and intent of the National Anthem Law: to preserve the dignity of the national anthem and promote respect for the national anthem, and at the same time to give due regard to the common law system and the actual circumstances in Hong Kong," Nip said.

The bill defines the crime as publicly and intentionally altering the lyrics or music of the national anthem, and playing or singing the anthem in a distorted or disrespectful way, or making such a rendition public, with the intention of insulting the anthem.

People who misuse the national anthem-including using its lyrics or music in an advertisement or as the background music in a public place-could also face a fine of up to HK$50,000.

The penalties are the same as those in the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance, which took effect in Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, when it was returned to China.

The bill touches on standards, etiquette and occasions for playing and singing the anthem.

The occasions listed include major government events, major sporting events and swearing-in ceremonies for the chief executive, principal government officials, judicial officers, members of the Executive Council and legislators.

Nip noted that as infractions could involve large crowds of unidentified culprits-such as at a soccer match-or the use of the internet and social media, it sometimes could be difficult for the police to gather evidence. Therefore, the bill extends the statute of limitations from six months to up to two years.

To promote respect of the anthem, the bill requires primary and secondary schools to educate students in properly singing it and understanding its history and spirit.

Legal professionals said that the bill is fair as it aims to promote people"s respect for the national anthem.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a lawyer and executive councilor in Hong Kong, said that under the "one country, two systems" principle, it is "absolutely acceptable" to ask people to treat the national anthem with respect.

Clearly stipulating occasions where it should be sung can effectively reduce the chance for inadvertent violations of the law.

Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a lawyer and legislator, said the intention of the National Anthem Bill is to promote Hong Kong people"s respect for it, not punishing anyone.

Leung said she was confident that the Legislative Council could pass the bill before the summer recess in July, as it enjoys broad public support.

According to the Basic Law, the SAR"s constitutional document, Hong Kong has a duty to locally enact the law after it was incorporated into Annex III of the Basic Law on Nov 4, 2017.

Previously, some fans in Hong Kong had booed the national anthem several times during international soccer matches, including twice in October 2017, when Hong Kong played against Laos and Malaysia.