Lawmakers on Thursday passed legislation to make disrespecting or misusing the national anthem a criminal offence, with offenders liable to fines of up to HK$50,000 or three years in prison.
Forty-one legislators voted for the new law and only one voted against it. But this came as pro-democracy members were busy protesting over the legislation and a move to cut short debate on it.
In 2017, Beijing passed its own law outlawing any "insults" to the anthem and inserted this legislation into Annex III of the Basic Law, following repeated instances of Hong Kong football fans booing the March of the Volunteers at matches.
Pro-democracy legislators had successfully stalled the new law for months, with filibustering in the House Committee slowing down a raft of bills in Legco.
But the legislation was bumped up to the top of the agenda after the pro-establishment camp seized back control of proceedings last month.
All 21 amendments the pro-democracy camp put forward to the National Anthem Bill were voted down on Thursday morning. These included moves to reduce the penalties for violations and shortening the two-year time period the authorities will have to bring prosecutions from the date of the alleged offence.
As part of last-ditch efforts to stall the bill, debate was interrupted on Thursday lunchtime when opposition lawmakers Chu Hoi-dick and Ray Chan threw a foul-smelling liquid onto the chamber floor, leading to police and firefighters being called in.
Ahead of the vote, Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said he couldn't accept a law that could put people behind bars for as long as three years.
"If you want people to respect the national anthem, I'm afraid you have chosen the wrong approach. It is counterproductive," Wu said.
"You are only making people better understand what the national anthem has been distorted to represent. Originally, it was meant to ask us not to become slaves. But on the contrary, the Central People's Government is suppressing us and we are forced to become slaves of this regime."
Pro-Beijing councillor Chan Kin-por said the penalties have to be as stiff as they are, otherwise "radical teenagers" could be encouraged to challenge the new law.
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang, meanwhile, said the prison term and fine is in line with the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance.
Tsang added that shortening the time allowed to prosecute people would have undermined law enforcement.
After the vote, he said people won't have to worry about the new law unless they deliberately and publicly disrespect the anthem, and he dismissed claims it will curtail freedom of speech.
The law will be gazetted on June 12.