Hong Kong government reboots injunction bid over banned anthem 'Glory to Hong Kong'

An injunction could mean the song is removed from online platforms to prevent the city's residents from seeing it.
By Ng Ting Hong for RFA Cantonese
Hong Kong government reboots injunction bid over banned anthem 'Glory to Hong Kong' A group of music performers plays "Glory to Hong Kong" during an anti-extradition bill protest inside a shopping mall at Kowloon Tong, in Hong Kong, Sept. 18, 2019.
Credit: Tyrone Siu/Siu

The Hong Kong government said Monday it will appeal a court decision not to grant an injunction banning all reference to Glory to Hong Kong, an anthem of the 2019 protest movement, online and offline.

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

Judge Anthony Chan said he couldn't see how an injunction, which the government wanted to include online platforms visible from Hong Kong, would help.

“I am unable to see a solid basis for believing that the invocation of the civil jurisdiction can assist in the enforcement of the law in question,” Chan said in the ruling, adding that there is already plenty of criminal law that could be used instead.

So far, Hong Kong has largely escaped the wide-ranging and constant government censorship seen behind China's Great Firewall, despite an ongoing crackdown on public dissent and criticism of the government under a draconian national security law.

Downloads of “Glory to Hong Kong” spiked on international streaming platforms – before it was removed from some music services soon after the government announced it would seek the injunction in June.

The government had wanted the court to grant the ban on broadcasting or distributing the song, which the government says advocates "independence" for the city, and which has been mistakenly played at international sporting events instead of the Chinese anthem, "March of the Volunteers."

'Separatist' intent

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.

It is still frequently sung by pro-democracy activists outside of Hong Kong.

"The Secretary for Justice acting as a guardian of public interest applied for the interim injunction for the purpose of discharging the constitutional responsibility of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to safeguard national security by effectively preventing, suppressing and imposing punishment on acts or activities endangering national security, and to preserve the dignity of the National Anthem," a department of justice spokesman said in a statement on its official website on Monday.

A government prosecutor [center, right] arrives at the High Court in Hong Kong on July 21, 2023, as the government seeks an injunction to have the protest song “Glory to Hong Kong” banned. Credit: Isaac Lawrence/AFP
A government prosecutor [center, right] arrives at the High Court in Hong Kong on July 21, 2023, as the government seeks an injunction to have the protest song “Glory to Hong Kong” banned. Credit: Isaac Lawrence/AFP

It said the court had agreed that there was "little doubt" that "Glory to Hong Kong" was used to incite secession or sedition.

"[The song] was designed to arouse anti-establishment sentiment and belief in the separation of Hong Kong from the People's Republic of China," it cited the initial court ruling as saying.

"The Court of First Instance made the decision to refuse granting an interim injunction not because the acts in question are legal, but because the court considered that such acts already constitute criminal offenses even without the injunction, and therefore was not satisfied that the injunction would be of real utility," the statement said.

An injunction would only be enforceable within Hong Kong's territory, but could require online service providers to take down the song if it could be accessed by users in Hong Kong.

The government has called on Google to stop listing the song in search results when users search for "Hong Kong National Anthem."  

But a search for the term "Hong Kong National Anthem" on Monday showed the Wikipedia entry for the Chinese national anthem in top place, with the Wikipedia entry for "Glory to Hong Kong" just below it. Video search results showed "Glory to Hong Kong" in top spot, with the Chinese national anthem in second place.

Jailed for posting anthem

The statement warned that "it is a criminal offense to disseminate or perform the Song with the intention of inciting others to commit secession or with seditious intention, or to disseminate or perform the Song as the "National Anthem of Hong Kong" with the intent to insult the National Anthem."

Intentionally aiding or abetting others to do such things could also result in criminal prosecution, it said.

Last month, a Hong Kong magistrate's court handed down a three-month jail term to a man for insulting China’s national anthem after he paired footage of a Hong Kong athlete winning a medal with audio of the banned protest song, “Glory to Hong Kong,” and posted the clip to YouTube.

Cheng Wing-chun, a 27-year-old photographer, became the first person to be convicted of insulting the national anthem of the People's Republic of China under a new law banning disrespect to the anthem – called "March of the Volunteers" – in the city when he was found guilty by Magistrate Minnie Wat at Eastern Magistrate's Court on July 5.

Cheng was accused of creating and uploading a video clip of Hong Kong fencer Edgar Cheung winning a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in July 2021 in which the soundtrack of China's national anthem had been replaced with the banned protest anthem used widely in the 2019 protest movement in the city.

He was also accused of "desecrating the national flag."

Hong Kong passed a national anthem law in June 2020 banning 'insults' to the Chinese national anthem after Hong Kong soccer fans repeatedly booed, yelled Cantonese obscenities or turned their backs when it was played at matches.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.


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