Some countries don't waver when it comes to flag laws

By GAYLE YOUNG United Press International  |  June 14, 1990
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To burn an Iranian flag is to desecrate the name of Allah and the punishment would be along the lines faced by Salman Rushdie, while in Italy it's legal to burn a flag but against the law to insult a head of state.

If the United States were to adopt a constitutional amendment banning the desecration of the Stars and Stripes, it would be joining company with a number of countries from the Soviet Union to South Africa that have similar laws, according to an informal poll conducted Thursday by United Press International correspondents around the world.

But there are many other nations that have no laws against burning the flag, and other countries with laws on the books that don't enforce them.

'There is no offense to damaging it in any way,' a Home Office official in London said of Great Britain's distinctive red, white and blue Union Jack. The same goes for Australia's modified Union Jack, according to officials there.

Japan also has no law against desecrating its white and red flag that depicts the rising sun, although when a flag was burned recently in Okinawa the suspect was charged with destroying public property.

In other countries, flag burners face more serious consequences.

A number of fundamentalists in Iran have burned American flags to protest the United States, but dissidents who oppose the ruling clerics have never been known to burn Iran's green and orange flag, which contain's the name of God, or Allah. To do so would be blasphemy, the same charge leveled against Rushdie when he was sentenced to death by assassination for his novel 'Satanic Verses.'

Libya doesn't have a law against burning its simple all-green flag, or laws against anyhing for that matter.

'The problem with Libya is that there are no written laws or lawyers but the so called popular committee would immediately sentence to death anyone found guilty of burning the Libyan flag,' said one source well connected with the North African country.

The Soviet Union and most East European countries have laws that require two to four year prison sentences for flag desecration, although authorities in East Europe turned a blind eye when pro-democracy demonstrators cut the communist symbol out of national flags waved during protests.

In East Germany, few people would dream of desecrating their flag these days -- it's much too valuable. Souvenir hunters have been snatching up the banners, which will become obsolete when the East rejoins West Germany. Large East German flags are being sold for up to $100 each by Berlin street vendors who also peddle pieces of the Berlin wall.

In India, burning a flag would violate the National Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act of 1971, a law that is so strict that a person can in theory be sentenced to three years in jail for speaking contemptuously of the country's green, white and orange flag.

China also could deal harshly with flag burners under a law banning counter-revolutionary incitement, which carries a minimum of five years in prison for those deemed to be ringleaders.

South Koreans can be sentenced up to 10 years in prison if they 'damage, remove or disgrace' the Korean flag and can also face jail for desecrating the flag of a foreign country. However, anti-American protesters who've burned the Stars and Stripes in recent protests have gotten off with warnings.

Burning the South African flag or commiting 'any other act calculated to hold it in contempt' is illegal in the country under a 1983 constitutional act that calls for a $3,700 fine and a five year prison term.

Argentinians face one to four years in prison if they 'publicly insult the flag, the national coat of arms or the national anthem.'

And finally, Kenya has no specific law against desecrating its black, brown and green flag that bears a shield and spears.

But it is definately illegal to rip up any Kenyan currency in Kenya, because every bill carrries a portrait of President Daniel Arap Moi.

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