The three-day suspension handed down to students accused of “disrespecting” a flag-raising ceremony at a Tsuen Wan secondary school was an excessive punishment, a Hong Kong political party has said.

St. Francis Xavier's School school students
Students in a hall in St. Francis Xavier’s School. Photo: St. Francis Xavier’s School, via Facebook.

In a statement published on Tuesday, the Democratic Party said meting out serious punishments was counterproductive to schools’ duty of being a place of guidance to students.

“Schools and students should abide by the Education Bureau’s clear regulations when it comes to flag-raising ceremonies,” said Leo Chu, the Democratic Party’s spokesperson on education policies. “But schools should not be oversensitive.”

Local media outlets reported over the weekend that 14 students at St. Francis Xavier’s School were suspended from class for three days after being accused of missing a morning flag-raising ceremony last Wednesday. Students told the outlets that they were eating breakfast at the time.

In a statement released on Monday, the secondary school confirmed it had suspended 14 students over the incident for three days.

flag raising national day
National Day flag-raising ceremony in Wai Chai on October 1, 2022. Photo: GovHK.

“[Our] school has all along emphasised following laws and regulations, attaching strong importance to teaching students to respect the national anthem and flag-raising ceremonies, and nurturing students to become responsible citizens,” St. Francis Xavier’s School said.

The Education Bureau said the school had already followed up on students’ inappropriate behaviour and issued a statement to parents. It added that it had requested the school to submit a report about the incident.

“Schools should educate students on the relevant etiquette [for flag-raising ceremonies], for example standing still and behaving solemnly,” the Bureau said. “If students engage in behaviour that disrespects the national flag or the national emblem, the school should follow up.”

HKFP has reached out to the school for comment.

Hong Kong passed a bill in 2020 criminalising disrespectful acts towards the Chinese national anthem, with a maximum penalty of three years in jail.

Education Bureau
The Education Bureau. Photo: NowTV screenshot.

Guidelines issued by the Education Bureau last year require schools to hold flag-raising ceremonies once a week. The bureau also “strongly advises” schools to hold the ceremonies on important and special occasions, such as graduations and sports days.

One of the students who was punished told Ming Pao that he disagreed with the school’s handling of the matter. “[The school] should tell me what I did wrong and give me evidence,” the student, who asked to be called Anthony, said. “If you have evidence, then punish me for three days. I wouldn’t mind.”

Another student told the local media outlet that he “absolutely supported” the way the school had acted. “That’s what patriotism should look like,” the student added.

The school denied allegations that it had reported the incident to police, local media reported. Police officers did arrive at the school that morning, but it was in relation to a plaque outside the school that was vandalised in the early hours of the day.

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Hillary Leung is a journalist at Hong Kong Free Press, where she reports on local politics and social issues, and assists with editing. Since joining in late 2021, she has covered the Covid-19 pandemic, political court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial, and challenges faced by minority communities.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hillary completed her undergraduate degree in journalism and sociology at the University of Hong Kong. She worked at TIME Magazine in 2019, where she wrote about Asia and overnight US news before turning her focus to the protests that began that summer. At Coconuts Hong Kong, she covered general news and wrote features, including about a Black Lives Matter march that drew controversy amid the local pro-democracy movement and two sisters who were born to a domestic worker and lived undocumented for 30 years in Hong Kong.