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HK asks online platforms to remove protest song

'Glory to Hong Kong' is the first song to be banned in the former British colony since it was handed over to China in 1997
 A man playing Glory to Hong Kong on a flute during China's National Day in Hong Kong.

 A man playing 'Glory to Hong Kong' on a flute during China's National Day in Hong Kong. (Photo: AFP)

Published: May 09, 2024 05:28 AM GMT
Updated: May 09, 2024 05:34 AM GMT

Hong Kong has demanded that a protest song popular during pro-democracy demonstrations be removed from the internet after a court banned it, judging it was a "weapon" to incite violent protests in 2019.

The case has been closely watched for how it would affect tech firms and internet platform operators -- a concern that has been raised internationally over the free flow of information in Hong Kong.

The May 8 ban comes after a campaign by the city's authorities against the song, which has seen them demand it be removed from Google's internet search results and other content-sharing platforms -- a request that has been largely rebuffed.

"The government... will communicate with relevant internet service providers, request or demand them to remove relevant content in accordance with the injunction order," said Paul Lam, the semi-autonomous city's Secretary for Justice.

The move is to "persuade the internet service providers not to provide the convenience and not to facilitate the commission of unlawful acts," Lam told reporters.

"Glory to Hong Kong" is the first song to be banned in the former British colony since it was handed over to China in 1997.

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

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.

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

Hong Kong has no anthem of its own, and uses China's "March of the Volunteers".

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.

The song can no longer be broadcast or performed "with criminal intent", or disseminated or reproduced 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 judgment said an injunction order was "necessary" because internet platform operators "indicated that they are ready to accede to the Government's request if there is a court order".

Industry group Asia Internet Coalition, representing tech giants such as Google and Spotify, said it was assessing the implications of the decision "to determine its impact on businesses".

"We believe that a free and open internet is fundamental to the city's ambitions to become an international technology and innovation hub," said the group's managing director Jeff Paine.

Soon after the judgment was handed down, Beijing authorities said the ban was "necessary" for "safeguarding national security."

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