Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that she was heartbroken upon hearing that many of the arrested protesters were under the age of 18, adding that children might not have known political issues were “not that simple.”
Lam said ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday that over 1,500 people had been arrested during Hong Kong’s ongoing protests.
There have been nine cases where protesters defiled the Chinese national flag, including a 13-year-old who was arrested for allegedly burning the flag. Lam said such incidents were unacceptable and they would be followed up on in accordance with the law.
A person who desecrates the national flag or national emblem is liable on conviction of a fine of HK$50,000 and three years in jail under the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance.
“I am personally very heartbroken by this phenomenon because they are children. We must ask a question—how much do these children know and understand about our current political issues?” Lam said in response to a question from state news agency Xinhua.
“I urge our parents, teachers and school principals to tell our children that some political issues are not that simple. They must obey the law… they cannot blatantly break the law for political reasons.”
Mass demonstrations were triggered by the soon-to-be-withdrawn extradition bill, which would have allowed case-by-case fugitive transfers to mainland China. Since June, large-scale peaceful protests have morphed into sometimes violent displays of dissent over Beijing’s encroachment and alleged police brutality.
More protests have been planned ahead of the October 1 National Day next Tuesday, which will mark 70 years of the People’s Republic of China.
Some schools have decided to cancel flag-raising ceremonies around the public holiday due to safety concerns arising from potential protests.
The Education Bureau said on Monday that cancellations of flag-raising ceremonies could send the wrong message to students and encouraged schools to conduct the ceremonies normally.
The government has confirmed that the annual flag-raising ceremony on October 1 will be moved indoors at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, unlike in previous years.
When asked about the issue, Lam said the government’s decision was based on concerns over public security and safety.
“There may not be the need for such careful consideration over public order and public safety if schools raise the flags normally. That’s why the Education Bureau gave its view, hoping that schools would conduct the ceremonies normally,” she said.
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