Court bans protest song over 'insult' to China's national anthem

'Glory to Hong Kong' is a potential 'weapon' that must be taken down from online platforms, appeal judges say.
By Edward Li for RFA Cantonese
Court bans protest song over 'insult' to China's national anthem Anti-government protesters sing 'Glory to Hong Kong' during a sit-in at Yoho mall in Hong Kong, Sept. 21, 2019.
Tyrone Siu/Reuters

A Hong Kong court has banned "Glory to Hong Kong," a protest song from the 2019 pro-democracy movement that has been frequently mistaken for the city's official anthem, calling it a "weapon" that could be used to bring down the government and an "insult" to China's national anthem.

The Court of Appeal granted a temporary injunction that is largely aimed at getting the song taken down from online platforms, after the government repeatedly asked Google to alter its search results to no avail.

Public performances of the song are already banned, as its lyrics are deemed illegal under national security legislation, but that ban can currently only be enforced in territory controlled by China.

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

"The composer of the song ... was reported to have said that he ... wrote the song to boost the morale of the protesters and to appeal to people's emotions and sentiments," Court of Appeal judges Jeremy Poon, Carlye Chu and Anthea Pang wrote in their judgment handed down on Wednesday.

The songwriter, who first published the song on the Dgx Music YouTube channel in August 2019, also said "that while the front-line protesters used umbrellas, bricks, stones and petrol bombs as weapons, the song was the most important 'weapon' he could contribute to the fight," according to the judgment.

'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.

The ban comes after the Court of First Instance rejected the government's application for an injunction on performances or references to the song on July 28, 2023 citing a "chilling effect" on freedom of expression.

Performers sing 'Glory to Hong Kong' during a protest against an extradition bill in Hong Kong, Sept. 18, 2019. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

But Judges Poon, Chu and Pang said that decision had failed to take into account the "insult" to China's national anthem, "The March of the Volunteers," caused when others repeatedly played out "Glory to Hong Kong" at sporting events instead of the Chinese national anthem.

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.

Injunction 'crystal clear' to public

The song's labeling as "Hong Kong's national anthem" on YouTube had also been "highly embarrassing and hurtful to many people of Hong Kong, not to mention its serious damage to national interests," the judges said.

"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," they wrote, adding that the song remains freely available online despite the National Security Law that took effect in 2020.

The injunction was temporarily granted to prevent anyone from "broadcasting, performing, printing, publishing, selling, offering for sale, distributing, disseminating, displaying or reproducing [it] in any way," including on any online platform, the court said.

The court said the injunction would "make it crystal clear to the public" that such actions were legally prohibited, adding that Google had refused to interfere with the song's position in search results without a court order.

The song was still available on YouTube as of 1200 GMT Wednesday.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.


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May 08, 2024 10:05 PM

The geo-political situation has become untenable, demographic overload adds to the problems, climate change too and different 'belief systems' are no help either. Everybody wants to be rich instead of living a simple life. Where do we go from here? BIG BIG changes are needed but preferably not under authoritarian regimes. A global war might be coming indeed.