A Hong Kong activist was sentenced to nine months in prison on Thursday for burning and defacing the Chinese flag and the Hong Kong flag during two separate demonstrations against the mainland's communist government, sparking many web users to upload their own desecration of the Chinese flag in protest of the heavy-handed sentence.
A court convicted human rights advocate Koo Sze-yiu of four charges of flag desecration on February 7, 2013. Not long after, the Hong Kong police arrested [zh] a netizen who had uploaded a tainted Chinese flag on to a social media platform. The maximum sentence for flag desecration is up to three years in prison and a fine of 50,000 HK dollars (approximately 7,000 U.S. dollars).
Koo Sze-yiu is a well-known Hong Kong activist who is critical of the Chinese government human rights record, but who has also fought for China's claim to the Diaoyu Islands over Japan several times. The charges against him concern two separate protests: In June 2012, Koo burned the Chinese flag outside the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong to protest against the staged suicide of Chinese dissident Li Wangyang, and on January 1, Koo was seen waving the Chinese flag with a big X through it and the Hong Kong flag with holes in it.
The punishment of jail time is political in nature and implies the erosion of Hong Kong's legal independence from mainland China. Many have criticized the court's decision, believing the two cases are examples of how the Chinese government reasserting its sovereignty in Hong Kong through the intimidation of citizens.
Blogger hkwolf cited the U.S court case to point out that the criminalization of flag desecration is against human rights:
有人說，由於國旗代表國家統一和民族團結，所以不可隨便褻瀆。美國大法官William J. Brennan, Jr.的判詞就是最好的解答：「政府不能僅僅因為一個思想被社會視作冒犯，不能接受，就禁止人們表達這種思想。對此原則，我們不承認有任何例外，即使被冒犯的是我們的國旗。」身為一個自由和獨立的人，我們有擁戴國家的自由，也應該有討厭國家的自由。既然我們有權厭惡國家，當然也應有權用任何不妨礙他人的方法表達對國家的厭惡。單單因為一班愛國人士看不過眼，就剝奪他們表達想法的權利，絕不公道。
Some say the national flag should not be desecrated because it represents national unity and solidarity. U.S Supreme Court Judge William J. Brennan, Jr.'s verdict is the best answer to such argument: The government cannot ban people who express an idea that is considered unacceptable and disrespectful by society. There should not be any exception to such a principle even though it is our national flag being desecrated. People are independent with free will. We have freedom to love the country and freedom to hate the country. If we have the freedom to hate the country, we should enjoy the freedom to express such opinion without interference from others. It is absolutely not justified [for the court] to deprive people's freedom of expression because some patriotic people feel uneasy about such expression.
To express their discontent, many netizens uploaded images of their own so-called “desecration” of the Chinese national flag. Kursk Edward uploaded a flag, which was designed by a Hong Kong Golden Forum user last year, to his Facebook and invited police to arrest him:
Picnews reported the news about Koo Sze-yiu's prison sentence with this image, which reads nine months jail time for national flag desecration:
Talk Hong Kong shared a photo of a torn Chinese flag hung in protest outside the Chinese embassy in Canada. The photo was uploaded by a Canadian citizen:
Passion Times, a citizen media platform, also published this image, designed by Calvin Lan, with their news report about the arrest of netizen for flag desecration: