Hong Kong jails woman for insulting China’s national anthem during Olympic celebration

Hong Kong

A woman who waved a British colonial-era flag to celebrate Hong Kong claiming Olympic gold has become the first person in the city to be jailed on charges of insulting the Chinese national anthem.

Paula Leung, a 42-year-old online journalist, pleaded guilty to the charge and received a three-month prison sentence on Thursday, Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK reported.

Leung, who said in mitigation that he had autism and learning disabilities, had waved the flag at a shopping center where a big screen was showing the medal ceremony after Edgar Cheung’s foil victory at the Olympics in Tokyo in July 2021.

Large crowds had gathered to celebrate what was Hong Kong’s second Olympic gold medal and first in fencing, but the scene turned rowdy when the Chinese national anthem was played for the awarding ceremony of the award and some people started booing.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, continues to represent itself separately from mainland China at the Olympics despite being handed over to China in 1997.

Hong Kong's Edgar Cheung received the men's individual foil gold medal on July 26, 2021 at the Tokyo Olympics.

Cheung’s victory was seen by many as a breakthrough for Hong Kong athletes and a rare moment of unity in a city that has been rocked in recent years by anti-government protests.

But the use of the Chinese national anthem – “March of the Volunteers” – to mark their victory was controversial, as it was the first time the anthem had been used in an Olympic medal ceremony for an athlete from Hong Kong. When windsurfer Lee Lai-shan took Hong Kong’s only other gold, at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, “God Save The Queen” was played and Hong Kong’s British colonial flag was raised.

Pro-democracy protesters in the city have occasionally used British colonial-era symbols to mark defiance against mainland China’s increasingly tight control over the semi-autonomous city.

Protesters often waved the colonial-era flag at pro-democracy demonstrations across the city in 2019, while some of the thousands of Hong Kong women who lined up outside the British consulate to pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain after her death on September saw his actions as a subtle form of protest.

Public gatherings have been rare since China imposed a national security law in June 2020 to quell increasingly violent pro-democracy protests.

That same month, local authorities in Hong Kong introduced legislation that made insulting the Chinese national anthem a crime punishable by up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of $6,400 (HK$50,000).

Legislation requires people to “stand solemnly and behave with dignity” when the “March of the Volunteers” is played or sung.

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