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Crime in Hong Kong

Did this legislator defile the Chinese and Hong Kong flags? Court case to find out continues

Cheng Chung-tai’s lawyer says his client did not desecrate the flags and, if he did, then so did a pro-Beijing Legco member

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 September, 2017, 8:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 September, 2017, 1:44pm

A localist Hong Kong lawmaker who flipped over small Chinese and Hong Kong flags at the Legislative Council last year argued that he did not desecrate the flags, and that if he did then a pro-government lawmaker should be in court too.

Cheng Chung-tai’s lawyer said the court ought to “immediately arrest” the other Legco member, if his client did indeed defile the flags.

On October 19 last year Cheng, of Civic Passion, upended the small national and Hong Kong flags on some pro-Beijing members’ desks.

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Legislators from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) had put them on their own desks.

Cheng, 33, had already pleaded not guilty to one count of desecration of the national flag and another over the regional flag, alleging that he publicly and wilfully defiled the flags.

But Cheng’s lawyer, Robert Pang Yiu-hung SC, told Eastern Court that news footage admitted to evidence also showed DAB lawmaker Ann Chiang Lai-wan removing the flipped-over flags, before randomly putting some of them away under computer screens when she could not get them back to the way they had been.

Pang said if his client’s conduct had amounted to desecration: “Please immediately arrest lawmaker Chiang.”

At issue was how “defile” is interpreted under the city’s laws, which do not offer specific definitions, except to list five examples that include burning, mutilating, scrawling on, and trampling the flag.

Senior assistant director of public prosecutions Anna Lai Yuen-kee SC said the court ought to apply common sense to interpret the natural meaning of the word, in the context of the situation.

Quoting from the dictionary, Lai said “defile” is equivalent to “desecrate” in Chinese, and said that it also carries the meaning of “dishonour”. So, she said, to “defile” does not require damage to the flag, as long as prosecutors prove the defendant had physical contact with the flag whilst dishonouring it.

Pang called Lai’s interpretation “scary”, arguing instead that “to defile” must involve a physical impact inflicted on the flag by one of the five methods stipulated in the ordinances.

Even if the prosecution had correctly understood “defile” as “dishonour”, Pang said neither of those actions were evidenced in the present case as his client had “carefully and slowly turned the flags upside down”.

“Simply upending the flags is not an act of desecration,” Pang said.

He also urged the magistrate not to adopt a Court of Final Appeal reasoning in 1999 that “defiling plainly includes dishonouring” as he argued that that was “a throwaway comment” which the top judges had not properly considered.

The verdict is scheduled for September 29.