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YouTube blocks banned Hong Kong protest anthem ‘Glory to Hong Kong’

Hong Kong flag (Unsplash)
May 16, 2024

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

YouTube has blocked access to dozens of videos containing the banned protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong” for viewers in the territory following a court injunction last week that said it could be used as a “weapon” to bring down the government.

The company, which is owned by Google’s parent Alphabet, said 32 videos featuring the banned song have been geoblocked and are now unavailable in the city, which is in the throes of an ongoing clampdown on public dissent.

“We are disappointed by the Court’s decision but are complying with its removal order by blocking access to the listed videos for viewers in Hong Kong,” a YouTube spokesperson said in a statement sent to multiple media organizations. 

“We’ll continue to consider our options for an appeal, to promote access to information,” the statement said, adding that Google search results for the song would also be invisible to users in the city.

Public performances of the song are already banned in Hong Kong, as its lyrics are deemed illegal under stringent national security legislation.

But the Court of Appeal on May 8 granted the government a temporary injunction to address its continued availability online, calling it a “weapon” that could be used to bring down the government, and an “insult” to China’s national anthem.

“Glory to Hong Kong,” which sparked a police investigation after organizers played it in error at recent overseas sporting fixtures, was regularly sung by crowds of unarmed protesters during the 2019 protests, which ranged from peaceful mass demonstrations for full democracy to intermittent, pitched battles between “front-line” protesters and armed riot police.

The song calls for freedom and democracy rather than independence, but was nonetheless deemed in breach of the law due to its “separatist” intent, officials and police officers said at the start of an ongoing citywide crackdown on public dissent and peaceful political activism.

Government injunction

Last week’s ban came after the Court of First Instance rejected the government’s application for an injunction on July 28, 2023 citing a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression.

The injunction bans anyone in Hong Kong from “broadcasting, performing, printing, publishing, selling, offering for sale, distributing, disseminating, displaying or reproducing” the song with seditious intent, including online.

The Hong Kong government had earlier asked Google to alter its search results, to no avail.

While Hong Kong isn’t yet subject to China’s Great Firewall of blanket internet censorship, some websites linked to the protest movement including HKChronicles are blocked by internet service providers in the city. The website of the London-based rights group Hong Kong Watch is also blocked.

A Wikipedia entry for the song appeared at the top of Google search results for the phrase “Hong Kong national anthem” outside the city on Wednesday. 

The song’s labeling as “Hong Kong’s national anthem” on YouTube has been “highly embarrassing and hurtful to many people of Hong Kong, not to mention its serious damage to national interests,” the Court of Appeal judges said when they granted the injunction last week.

Hong Kong passed a law in 2020 making it illegal to insult China’s national anthem on pain of up to three years’ imprisonment, following a series of incidents in which Hong Kong soccer fans booed their own anthem in the stadium.

“The song has also been sung and promoted by prominent anti-China destabilizing forces and national security offenses fugitives in events provoking hatred towards the People’s Republic of China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government,” the judges wrote.