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Legislative Council oath-taking saga

Localist Hong Kong lawmaker faces charges for turning flags upside down in Legco chamber

Civic Passion’s Cheng Chung-tai summoned by police under laws barring desecration of national and Hong Kong flags

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 April, 2017, 8:32pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 April, 2017, 9:57pm

Localist lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai faces charges of desecrating the national and Hong Kong flags after he turned those displayed by pro-Beijing colleagues upside down in the Legislative Council chamber last year.

Cheng called the move part of a “purge” before the administration changes hands in July after two winning pro-independence candidates were unseated and the government sought the disqualification of four pan-democrats over the way they took their Legco oaths.

Civic Passion’s lone representative in Legco said his assistant received a phone call from police on Monday informing him about the decision to prosecute Cheng.

“I’m not surprised,” Cheng said. “Leung Chun-ying is leaving soon and he has made Hong Kong’s judicial system and rule of law look ridiculous. ”

On October 19 last year, Cheng upended the small national and Hong Kong flags that lawmakers from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong had displayed on their desks.

He made the move after the pro-establishment bloc staged a walkout to prevent Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching from retaking their oaths after they insulted China. The pair were later disqualified.

Cheng is also facing an internal Legco probe over the incident.

A police source close to the matter said if Cheng failed to turn himself in at a police station, he might be arrested at his home or his office in Yuen Long.

Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen said lawmakers’ speeches made during meetings were protected from legal action but they had to be responsible for their conduct. The secretariat would cooperate with police if necessary, he said.

Under the law, a person who desecrates or defiles the national or regional flag could be fined or sent to prison for three years.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming, principal law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, said the Court of Final Appeal ruled in 1999 that the meaning of “defiling” also included “dishonouring”.

While the court confirmed that society’s interest in protecting the national flag justified the restriction on freedom of expression, prosecutors would need to argue why the present case justified such a “wide” restriction on the freedom that even turning the flags upside down would be unlawful, Cheung added.