Hong Kong lawmaker charged over upending Chinese flag

Hong Kong (AFP) - A Hong Kong lawmaker was arrested on Wednesday (April 12) for "desecrating" the Chinese and Hong Kong flags by turning them upside down in Parliament, in charges he said were designed to suppress anti-Beijing sentiment.

Cheng Chung Tai upended small China and Hong Kong flags that some pro-Beijing legislators had displayed on their desks in the legislative assembly last October.

The incident happened in a feisty session where two pro-independence lawmakers were barred from taking up their seats in a row over the oath-taking ceremony.

Under Hong Kong law, it is an offence to desecrate national and regional flags by "publicly and wilfully burning, mutilating, scrawling on, defiling or trampling on them".

"The clear and obvious goal is to eliminate dissent" before the city's newly elected pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam takes office in July, Cheng told reporters after he was bailed.

He said that Hong Kong was facing a "massive purge" against pro-democracy voices.

The city was handed back to China by colonial ruler Britain in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula.

But there are concerns China is interfering in the semi-autonomous city, eroding its freedoms and way of life.

Some activists have angered Beijing by calling for greater autonomy or even independence for Hong Kong, with some jailed or awaiting trial over anti-China clashes.

A protester was jailed for more than four years on Monday for rioting and arson during a 2016 protest known as the Fishball Revolution, where police fired warning shots and demonstrators hurled bricks torn up from pavements.

Three other activists had been jailed for three years on riot charges for their role in the same protest.

Other prominent activists were arrested late last month over 2014's Umbrella Movement, which saw tens of thousands occupy the city's streets for 79 days in an unsuccessful campaign for election reform.