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Court bans 'Glory to Hong Kong'

The protest song can also no longer be disseminated or reproduced in any way on internet-based platforms
This photo taken on May 13, 2020, shows anti-government protesters singing the protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong as they gather in a shopping mall in Hong Kong.

This photo taken on May 13, 2020, shows anti-government protesters singing the protest anthem 'Glory to Hong Kong' as they gather in a shopping mall in Hong Kong. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 08, 2024 10:00 AM GMT
Updated: May 08, 2024 10:10 AM GMT

Hong Kong's Court of Appeal on May 8 banned "Glory to Hong Kong," a protest song penned during massive pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019, which was already all but illegal after Beijing imposed the national security law.

The song grew massively popular during the huge and at times violent protests and was also secretly recorded by an anonymous orchestra. Its defiant lyrics incorporate the key protest slogan "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times."

Angering the city's government, "Glory to Hong Kong" has in recent years been played at several international sporting events, with event organizers mistaking it for the Chinese territory's anthem.

Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous territory with no anthem of its own, and uses China's "March of the Volunteers."

The ban comes after a campaign by the city's authorities against the song, which has seen them demand that it be removed from internet search results and content-sharing platforms.

Reversing a lower court's decision last year, appeal judge Jeremy Poon wrote in a judgment that the composer of the song had "intended it to be a 'weapon' and so it had become."

"It had been used as an impetus to propel the violent protests plaguing Hong Kong since 2019. It is powerful in arousing emotions among certain fractions of the society," he said, adding that the song "has the effect of justifying and even romanticizing" the protests.

"[We] are satisfied that an injunction should be granted," Poon said, granting an order that would stop a range of acts including broadcasting and performing the song "with criminal intent."

The song can also no longer be disseminated or reproduced in any way on internet-based platforms, though the injunction contained exceptions for "academic activity and news activity" -- a tweak the government made after earlier questioning by judges.

The civil injunction is needed as "criminal law alone would not achieve the public interest purpose of safeguarding national security," Poon said.

The May 8 decision would make "Glory to Hong Kong" the first song to be banned in the former British colony since it was handed over to China in 1997.

Soon after the judgment was handed down, Beijing authorities said the ban was a "necessary measure."

"Stopping anyone from employing or disseminating the relevant song... is a legitimate and necessary measure by [Hong Kong] to fulfill its responsibility of safeguarding national security," foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian said on May 8 during a regular briefing.

'Policing the internet'

The Hong Kong government's first attempt to get an official injunction was refused by the High Court last year in a surprise ruling, which said a ban could have a "chilling effect" on innocent third parties.

The injunction also did not have "any real utility," the court said then, which appeal judges disagreed with on May 8.

One key issue cited during the appeal hearings was how the government's proposed order would affect internet platform operators -- mirroring concerns raised internationally about the free flow of information in Hong Kong.

Officials had in the past demanded tech giants such as Google to remove "Glory to Hong Kong" from their search results and video platforms -- but were largely rebuffed.

The judgment said an injunction order was "necessary" because internet platform operators -- such as Google -- "indicated that they are ready to accede to the Government's request if there is a court order."

Hong Kong-based cybersecurity expert Anthony Lai explained that if a platform were to comply with the ban, it would have to make sure the song cannot have a Hong Kong IP address or Hong Kong users cannot access the song.

But both ways would be as difficult as "pulling a cow to climb up a tree," he said.

"I understand the government's need to defend national security, but I worry it would take up too much of their resources to police the whole internet," Lai told AFP.

After the protests were quashed and Beijing's national security law enacted in 2020, public dissent has largely been absent, and the bulk of pro-democracy activists and opposition politicians have either been arrested, silenced or fled Hong Kong.

The "Liberate Hong Kong" slogan -- embedded in the song -- was deemed secessionist by the city's courts in 2021, and since then authorities have targeted musicians who performed it.

Li Jiexin, 69, was jailed for a month for four counts of "unlicensed performance" after playing the song with an erhu, a two-string Chinese instrument, around the city in 2021 and 2022.

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