HONG KONG (Reuters) - A Hong Kong court on Friday ordered a 13-year-old girl who burned a Chinese flag at an anti-government protest to undergo group counseling and it put her on probation for a year, local broadcaster RTHK said.
The girl, who set fire to the flag at an anti-Beijing rally in September, pleaded guilty to desecrating the flag, RTHK said. Hong Kong has outlawed the desecration of national flags and emblems, crimes that attract jail terms of three years.
While Chinese authorities have striven to foster greater patriotism among citizens in the former British colony, they have met a backlash from protesters who accuse Beijing of encroaching on the freedoms promised to Hong Kong when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The city, a major hub of global finance, has been rocked by six months of often violent demonstrations against a now-withdrawn extradition bill that widened into demands for more democratic freedoms.
The girl’s lawyer submitted letters from her secondary school and her football coach urging the court to give her a second chance, RTHK said.
The magistrate told the girl not to expect a lenient sentence if she committed a more serious offence next time, the broadcaster said.
Young people and teenagers have been at the forefront of the Hong Kong protests. Since June, police have arrested people as young as 11 and as old as 84 in connection with the protests.
The protests have regularly featured ranks of riot police firing volleys of tear gas or baton-charging protesters, often in central business or tourist areas. Police in turn have been targets of petrol bombs and other projectiles hurled by often masked protesters.
There have been widespread allegations of police misconduct during the protests. Police have described their actions as reactive and restrained.
Reporting by David Dolan; Editing by Gareth Jones