Hong Kong man jailed 3 months for insulting China’s national anthem

Sentence imposed after he swapped anthem for banned protest song in Olympic footage
By Ng Ting Hong and Jojo Man for RFA Cantonese
2023.07.20
Hong Kong man jailed 3 months for insulting China’s national anthem Gold medal winner Hong Kong's Edward Cheung [center] celebrates with fellow medallists during the medal ceremony for the men’s individual foil during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 26, 2021.
Credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

A Hong Kong court on Thursday imposed a three-month jail term on a man for insulting China’s national anthem after he paired footage of a Hong Kong athlete winning a medal with audio of the banned protest song, “Glory to Hong Kong,” and posted the clip to YouTube.

Cheng Wing-chun, a 27-year-old photographer, became the first person to be convicted of insulting the national anthem of the People's Republic of China under a new law banning disrespect to the anthem – called "March of the Volunteers" – in the city when he was found guilty by Magistrate Minnie Wat at Eastern Magistrate's Court on July 5.

Cheng was accused of creating and uploading a video clip of Hong Kong fencer Edgar Cheung winning a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in July 2021 in which the soundtrack of China's national anthem had been replaced with the banned protest anthem used widely in the 2019 protest movement in the city.

He was also accused of "desecrating the national flag."

Handing down a three-month jail term on Thursday, Wat told the court that Cheng had edited the footage in a way that made it seem as if people were applauding it.

‘Glory to Hong Kong’

Wat dismissed Cheng's claim that he didn't understand the meaning of the song, saying he had once worked for a political party, and had taken part in demonstrations during the 2019 protest movement.

Cheng's clip had also attracted comments mentioning "Hong Kong independence" and calling "Glory to Hong Kong" the city's national anthem, she said.

"Not only did the defendant's behavior disrespect the athlete who won the medal -- it also encouraged others to commit acts damaging to national dignity," Wat told the sentencing hearing.

ENG_CHN_HKNatSec_07202023.2.jpg
Hong Kong soccer fans turn their backs as China's national anthem is played in South Korea's Busan Asiad stadium, Dec. 18, 2019. Credit: Jung Yeon-je/AFP

She said the sentence should serve as a warning to others not to imitate Cheng's actions. The defense had argued for leniency due to the fact that the video had merely replaced the national anthem, and hadn't insulted it in any way.

Hong Kong passed a law in 2020 making it illegal to insult China's national anthem on pain of up to three years' imprisonment, following a series of incidents in which Hong Kong soccer fans booed their own anthem.

In November 2022, Hong Kong police launched a criminal investigation into the playing of "Glory to Hong Kong" at a rugby match in South Korea instead of the Chinese national anthem. A similar gaffe took place days later at a weightlifting competition in Dubai.

E-sports player banned

Cheng's jailing came as the authorities banned a top e-sports player from competing in the Asian Games after he used the word "Glory" in an online team title.

Lam Kei-lung was issued with a three-year ban after a recent tournament with mainland Chinese players in which he called himself "Eazy D.L. 光復," a reference to a banned slogan from the 2019 protest movement that is typically rendered in English as "Free Hong Kong," or "Liberate Hong Kong," but it is more fully translated as "restore Hong Kong to its former glory."

The slogan is so taboo under an ongoing crackdown on dissent in the city that motorcyclist Tong Ying-kit was jailed in July 2021 for nine years for "terrorism" and inciting "secession" after he flew the slogan from his bike during a street protest, the first person to be sentenced under the national security law that took effect from July 1, 2020.

"The Association announces that player Lam Kei-lung is disqualified from participating in the Asian Games due to the use of sensitive words in his gaming name," the Asian E-Sports Association said in a July 17 statement on its Facebook page, adding that the ban would extend through July 16, 2026.

An e-sports player who gave only the nickname Shanguang said the three-year penalty would likely end Lam's career in what is a very fast-moving area of online competition.

"The value of a gamer comes from the fact that they keep playing in different competitions, and people are expecting to see them play," Shanguang said. 

‘Completely irrational’

The 19th Asian Games in September will include e-sports as an official event for the first time, and Hong Kong will send 35 players to take part.

Current affairs commentator and sociologist Chung Kim-wah said the ban was about the sports association showing loyalty to Beijing.

"We've gotten to the point where these institutions act in completely irrational ways in order to show loyalty to Beijing," Chung said. "They would be better off coming up with a list of sensitive words that you can't use."

"There aren't any regulations about which words you can use."

The gaming world is seen as potentially subversive by the authorities because young people played such a key role in the street resistance movement of 2019, current affairs commentator Yu Fei said.

In 2020, an esports player was removed from a Hong Kong gaming tournament after he shouted "Free Hong Kong, revolution now!" during an interview after a game. 

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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