Farmer jailed for burning flag
A mainland farmer is the first person to be jailed for burning the national flag in Hong Kong.
Zhu Rongchang, 74, from Jiangxi, was given a three-week sentence yesterday for desecrating the flag in Golden Bauhinia Square in July. The offence carries a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment.
'He was disappointed with the authoritarian rule of the Communist Party,' lawyer Newman Lam told Eastern Court. He said Zhu had pleaded not guilty because he had a different concept of freedom of speech and democracy than that allowed by the law.
'He is unhappy that there are no human rights. He does not think that the flag represents the People's Republic of China.'
Zhu lowered the flag from its pole and lit it with a cigarette lighter on July 22. He admitted burning the flag but denied he was guilty.
He was the third person to be charged under the controversial law, passed hours after the handover. It has faced several court challenges but the top court eventually upheld its validity in a 1999 ruling.
Magistrate Jason Wan Siu-ming said: 'The court agrees that freedom of speech is a universal value that is respected and pursued by all people.
'But every freedom is restricted in some way. No freedom comes without restrictions. I can appreciate the defendant's trail of thoughts but his way of expression breached the Hong Kong laws and therefore he is guilty.'
The only precedent involving desecrating the national flag involved protesters Ng Kung-siu and Lee Kin-yun, who were given one-year bonds.
In that highly controversial case, the pair waved a defaced home-made national flag during a peaceful demonstration in 1998. They had cut a hole in the middle, inked out the stars and written on it the Chinese character for 'shame'.
They were initially bound over by the magistrate's court but the Court of Appeal later ruled that the law was unconstitutional and overturned the conviction.
But in the Court of Final Appeal, then chief justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang reinstated the sentence, ruling that the legislation imposed a permissible restriction on the freedom of expression. He said the symbolic role played by the national flag ensured the implementation of the 'one country, two systems' concept and maintained national unity.
Magistrate Wan said the present case was more serious because the flag was being displayed in public and was damaged. He said a short jail term was therefore appropriate.