The Hong Kong government has outlined legislative amendments for enhancing the protection of the regional flag and regional emblem by outlawing desecrating behaviour on the internet.

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China and Hong Kong flags at Central Market on Oct. 1, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

The Regional Flag and Regional Emblem Ordinance should be updated to better align with the amended National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance and the National Anthem Ordinance, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said in a document submitted to the Legislative Council this week.

The authorities proposed clarifying the legislation to state that the provisions forbidding insult to the regional flag or emblem would be applicable to both real life and online behaviour.

They also suggested updating the ordinance to “explicitly prohibit” a person from publicly and intentionally desecrating the regional flag or emblem by burning, mutilating, scrawling on, defiling or trampling on them, or their images. “Intentionally publishing” a desecration of the regional flag and emblem with an intent to insult them would also be banned.

“The proposed amendments will enhance the protection of the regional flag and regional emblem by clarifying that the provisions on related offences cover desecrating behaviour in both real life and over the Internet,” the document read.

The bureau proposed setting up a prosecution time limit for summary proceedings. Charges may be filed within a year after the date on which the offence was discovered, or came to the attention of the police, or within two years after the date on which the offence was committed, whichever was earlier.

The document submitted to the legislature did not mention the penalty for breaching the provisions.

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Photo: GovHK.

Under the proposed amendments, a regional flag or regional emblem must not be discarded at will. Any damaged regional flag or emblem should be collected at designated points across the 18 districts – the same spots for collecting defiled, faded or substandard national flags and emblems.

‘Stand solemnly’

Other stipulations in the flag law are also set to be tightened:

  • The government has sought to expand the scope of the ban on certain uses of the regional flag and emblem in commercial advertisements. The flag and emblem must not be displayed or used in funeral activities unless prior approval is granted by the chief executive, it added.
  • The authorities said subsequent amendments would be introduced to the Registered Designs Ordinance to render designs containing the regional flag and emblem non-registrable.
  • The proposed amendments also covered the etiquette to be adopted at a ceremony in which the regional flag was raised. People should stand solemnly facing the flag and look at it with “respectful attention,” the government said. Any behaviour deemed as undermining the dignity of the regional flag would be prohibited.
  • An additional provision was suggested to require the education minister to give directions to local primary and secondary schools for the inclusion of education on the regional flag and emblem.
  • The Communications Authority should also require local broadcasters to play television and radio announcements containing the regional flag and emblem with reference to directions given by the city’s leader, the bureau wrote.

The proposed amendments are set to be discussed at the Panel on Constitutional Affairs meeting next Monday.

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A family takes a selfie with flags in the background at a flag-raising ceremony at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Oct. 1, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

The government’s intention of enacting laws against insulting the regional flag and emblem with those pertaining to the national flag was mentioned in the 2022 Policy Address delivered last October. Chief Executive John Lee said at the time that the move aimed to “further preserve the dignity of the regional flag and the regional emblem as a symbol and ensign of the HKSAR.”

Hong Kong passed amendments to the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance in September 2021 to ban the desecration of the Chinese national flag and national emblem on the internet. Violators face a maximum fine of HK$50,000 and three years behind bars.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.