Civic Passion lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai has been found guilty of desecrating the national and regional flags. The sentence was handed down by the Eastern Magistrates’ court on Friday, which ordered him to pay a HK$5,000 fine.
Cheng was seen flipping the flags in protest during a legislative session last October. He was subsequently charged with desecrating the regional and national flags, and had denied both counts.
Earlier this month, pro-establishment lawmakers Ann Chiang and Edward Lau testified before the Eastern Magistrates’ court and gave their accounts of the incident. The prosecution also submitted CCTV footage and news clips as evidence.
Magistrate Cheng Lim-chi ruled that Cheng’s acts amounted to desecration. He said that a fine was appropriate, noting that the incident took place in the Legislative Council chamber and the defendant continued to flip the flags after being discovered by others, but the acts were not as serious as burning a flag.
Lau said that he decided to hand out 12 sets of national and regional flags at the second legislative meeting for other lawmakers to display on their desk, as a reminder that the country should be respected. However, he admitted that his flag replicas did not fully meet the legal requirements for the dimensions and proportions of flags.
Cheng said at the time that he flipped them upside down because he considered the display to be “cheap patriotic acts,” as pro-Beijing lawmakers ignored livelihood issues and the nationality controversy that LegCo President Andrew Leung was embroiled in: “I flipped the Hong Kong flags upside down on behalf of Hong Kong people to show my discontent.”
Outside court, Cheng said the incident was triggered by the pro-establishment camp walking out of the chamber. He called the walkout and Friday’s ruling “ridiculous.”
“However, under today’s political climate, the outcome is not unexpected,” he said. Cheng also said that the verdict reminded Hongkongers that society is not free and democratic, and that they are facing an authoritarian government: “It emphasised that it’s not rule of law, but rule by law.”
He said he has already handed in the fine, and will ask his legal team for advice on whether to appeal.
It is an offence to desecrate the national or regional flags by methods such as “burning, mutilating, scrawling on, defiling or trampling on it.” It carries a maximum penalty of a HK$50,000 fine and three years behind bars.