A woman who hoisted a British colonial flag to celebrate Hong Kong claiming Olympic gold has become the first person in the city to be jailed for insulting China’s national anthem.
Paula Leung, a 42-year-old online journalist, pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to three months in prison on Thursday, Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK reported.
Leung, who said she has autism and learning difficulties, waved the flag at a shopping mall where a big screen was showing the medal ceremony after Edgar Cheung won the foil at the Tokyo Olympics in July 2021.
A large crowd had gathered to celebrate Hong Kong’s second Olympic gold medal and its first in fencing, but the scene turned sour when the Chinese national anthem was played for the awards ceremony and some people started shouting.
Despite being handed over to China in 1997, Hong Kong, a former British colony, continues to represent mainland China at the Olympics independently.
Cheung’s win was seen as a breakthrough for Hong Kong athletes and a rare moment of unity in a city rocked by anti-government protests in recent years.
But his use of the Chinese national anthem – “March of the Volunteers” – for his victory was controversial as it was the first time the national anthem had been used in an Olympic medal ceremony for a Hong Kong athlete. When windsurfer Lee Lai-shan won Hong Kong’s second 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 symbols from the British colonial era to mark the occasion disobedience Against China’s increasingly tight grip on the semi-autonomous city.
In pro-democracy demonstrations across the city in 2019, protesters often waved colonial-era flags, while their actions were seen by some of the thousands of Hongkongers who lined up outside the British consulate in September to pay their respects to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II after her death. A subtle form of protest.
Public gatherings have become rare since China enacted a national security law in June 2020 to quell pro-democracy protests.
That same month, Hong Kong local authorities introduced legislation that made insulting the Chinese national anthem punishable by up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of $6,400 (HK$50,000).
The law requires people to “stand solemnly and discharge themselves with dignity” when the “March of the Volunteers” is played or sung.