Hong Kong bans replacing China flag's stars with 'virus shapes'

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) – Hong Kong legislators have outlawed insulting the Chinese flag, including on the Internet, as the Asian financial hub continues a broad crackdown on and dissent.

Turning the flag upside down, trampling on it or replacing its five stars “with five virus shapes” could all be crimes resulting in three years in jail or a fine of HK$50,000 (S$8,739), under amendments to the national flag and national emblem Bill passed on Wednesday (Sept 29) by the Legislative Council.

Such imagery appeared in the early days of the pandemic as people blamed China for the origins of Covid-19.

“The legislative intent is to prohibit all public and intentional desecrating behaviours in relation to the national flag and national emblem, regardless of whether the behaviour is committed in the real life or the virtual world,” the legislators said in a report.

The Bill – part of a broader political push to ban dissent in the city following unprecedented unrest in 2019 – passed unopposed, with the chamber devoid of opposition members after the city’s pro-democracy politicians were either disqualified or resigned in protest.

Since the unrest, Beijing has gradually quashed dissent and increased its control over the city with a national security law last year, and sweeping changes to the city’s electoral system that now allow the government to veto any opposition candidates.

Protests have been effectively outlawed by Covid-19 restrictions that limit outdoor gatherings to just four people, despite large indoor events being allowed, while several large unions and pro-democracy groups have disbanded in recent months under pressure from the authorities.

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