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Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Pro-democracy legislator guilty of desecrating Hong Kong and China flags

Cheng Chung-tai fined HK$5,000 for flipping over the small flags, saying his conviction is a reminder that the city’s society is ‘not an open, democratic and liberal one’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 September, 2017, 3:05pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 September, 2017, 10:41pm

A localist Hong Kong lawmaker was found guilty on Friday of desecrating the small Chinese and Hong Kong flags that he flipped over at the Legislative Council last year, and fined HK$5,000.

Cheng Chung-tai, of pro-democracy party Civic Passion, said the case was “ridiculous” and his conviction a reminder that the city’s society is “not an open, democratic and liberal one”.

He was convicted after trial of one count of desecration of the national flag and another count over the regional flag, both of which he had denied. He was fined HK$2,500 per charge.

That was for upending miniature flags which lawmakers from the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) had displayed on their desks in the Legco chamber, on October 19.

The DAB’s Edward Lau Kwok-fan had taken the flags to the chamber that day, the same day Youngspiration members Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, along with fellow localist Lau Siu-lai, attempted to retake their members’ oaths, sparking chaos in the chamber.

When the pro-establishment bloc staged a walkout, Cheng went to their desks and upended the flags.

That drew DAB legislator Ann Chiang Lai-wan back into the chamber. She turned the flags back upright, only for Cheng to upend them again after she left.

“They displayed silly conduct and I responded with silly conduct,” Cheng said. “Only I was prosecuted afterwards.”

The Eastern Court sided with prosecutors to interpret that conduct as dishonouring the flags, after studying past cases and, the magistrate said, consulting at least four dictionaries.

There is no freedom of expression in Legco public gallery, government lawyer claims

Magistrate Cheng Lim-chi said any reasonable person would understand such an act would undermine the flags’ integrity.

Defence lawyer Robert Pang Yiu-hung SC said in mitigation that merely upending the flags was a moderate form of desecration, compared with the five examples listed in the relevant law: burning, mutilating, scrawling on, defiling or trampling.

He suggested the court grant his client a conditional release, arguing that Cheng was a passionate member of the community, serving as a part-time lecturer on top of his post as a lawmaker.

But the magistrate rejected the suggestion of conditional release, noting the offence happened in Legco and involved at least 18 pairs of flags, some of them upended after another lawmaker tried to stop Cheng.

“They’re not even your flags,” the magistrate said.

Cheng, 33, had no prior criminal record. He said he will consult his lawyers to see if they should appeal.

Speaking after paying the fine, the legislator branded the case “ridiculous” and “pointless”.

“I believe today’s judgment reminds us Hongkongers that the Hong Kong society is not an open, democratic and liberal one. We have always been facing an autocratic government,” he said.