HONG KONG, CHINA — A Hong Kong man was sentenced to three months in prison on Thursday for insulting China’s national anthem by swapping it in an online sports video with a song from the city’s 2019 democracy protests.
The jailing of Cheng Wing-chun, 27, came one day before the government was set to ask a separate court for an unprecedented and sweeping ban on the protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong”.
Insults to the national anthem are already criminalised in Hong Kong, under a 2020 law which carries a maximum penalty of three years in jail.
Magistrate Minnie Wat on Thursday sentenced Cheng to three months in jail, saying the video racked up more than 90,000 views and the court had to deter imitators.
Cheng “incited people in the comments section to insult the dignity of the national anthem” and showed no remorse, Wat said.
The court had ruled earlier this month that Cheng deliberately switched out the audio in a video clip he published on YouTube in 2021.
The clip, which showed Hong Kong fencer Edgar Cheung receiving his gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, originally had “March of the Volunteers” — the official anthem for both China and Hong Kong — playing in the background.
The protest song “Glory to Hong Kong”, penned anonymously, first emerged in August 2019 when Hong Kong was undergoing massive and at times violent democracy demonstrations.
It is now all but illegal to perform or play a recording of it in Hong Kong after Beijing crushed the protests and imposed a national security law in 2020 to quell dissent.
But the song has been mistakenly played multiple times as the city’s anthem at international sporting events — raising the ire of Hong Kong officials.
In June, the government applied to the city’s High Court for an injunction that, if granted, would stop people from broadcasting, performing, sharing or reproducing the song with criminal intent.
The government has also sought to ban “any adaptation” of the song or its melody.
Technology minister Sun Dong said earlier this month that the injunction was needed as tech giant Google had refused to delist “Glory to Hong Kong” from online search results unless the government had proof of the song’s illegality.