A Hong Kong court has adjourned the verdict in the first trial relating to insulting the Chinese national anthem, after a magistrate cleared doubts over a police sergeant’s expert testimony. The sergeant previously faced a disciplinary hearing for an absence from duty, and a series of rule violations 17 years ago.

Eastern Magistrates' Courts
Eastern Magistrates’ Courts. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Magistrate Minnie Wat of the Eastern Magistrates’ Court decided to accept the expert evidence by sergeant Tsui Chi-sing at the trial of Cheng Wing-chun, who is charged under the National Anthem Ordinance.

Hong Kong’s national anthem law, which criminalises insults to March of the Volunteers, was enacted on June 4, 2020 – violators risk fines up to HK$50,000 or three years in prison.

The defendant, who was 27 at the time of arrest, stands accused of creating and uploading a remix video with protest song “Glory to Hong Kong” being played when local fencing star Edgar Cheung won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in July 2021, instead of the Chinese anthem.

He also faces an alternative charge of desecrating the regional flag. Cheng denied the charge and stood trial in January this year.

Disciplinary action

The court was scheduled to hand down the first verdict reached after trial under the anthem law on Thursday, but the defence raised questions over whether sergeant Tsui’s testimony should still be accepted in light of his record of rule violations.

Tsui confirmed in court on Thursday that he faced an internal police disciplinary hearing in 2006 after he was found to have breached various regulations, including leaving his post for 30 minutes, which he was reprimanded for.

Edgar Cheung Tokyo Olympics fencing men's foil
Edgar Cheung. Photo: Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China.

Other violations included not carrying his gun – twice – when he went out to work, failing to write down the time and place relating to his investigation work 23 times, and not filling out his notebook properly by leaving certain parts blank on 22 occasions.

All violations were due to his negligence, and he owned up to his mistakes during the disciplinary hearing, Tsui said when he was grilled by Cheng’s representative. The prosecution defended the sergeant by saying the regulations he breached were all related to procedural rules.

There were no further violations after 2006, and Tsui was promoted – and received recognition – for his work, the prosecutor said. This included Tsui helping the Force to obtain a court injunction during the 2019 extradition bill protests to prohibit the disclosure of personal details of officers.

“All of the violations… we can’t see how they involved the matter of integrity,” the prosecutor said.

But the defence argued that the sergeant deliberately chose not to follow the rules, adding that Tsui’s behaviour was “definitely linked” to his integrity and urged the magistrate not to accept his evidence.

Cheng Wing-chun
Cheng Wing-chun (left) leaves the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts on June 1, 2023. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“This record casts doubt on whether this witness has the integrity to be an expert witness,” the defence said.

Following a 10-minute break, Wat decided to accept Tsui’s evidence but said it was “not ideal” that the sergeant was questioned again on Thursday. The Department of Justice should have informed the court about the rule violations earlier, she said.

The case was adjourned to July 5 for verdict.

Last November, Hong Kong citizen journalist Paula Leung, who waved a British colonial-era flag while the Chinese national anthem was being played, was jailed for three months for insulting the anthem following the first conviction under the new law.

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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.