YouTube blocks videos of Hong Kong protest song deemed seditious

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YouTube has blocked access to videos featuring a popular protest anthem in Hong Kong, one week after a local court granted a provisional injunction to ban the song in the territory.

In a statement, YouTube said 32 variations of “Glory to Hong Kong” were now unavailable to view in Hong Kong due to the court order, adding that links to these videos would no longer show on Google searches for users in the territory.

Some other videos featuring the song were still available on YouTube in Hong Kong on Wednesday and the company, which voiced concerns about the chilling effect on freedom of expression, said it might appeal against the court’s decision.

“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. “We’ll continue to consider our options for an appeal, to promote access to information.”

An appeals court in the Chinese territory last week granted a preliminary injunction sought by local officials to ban the song, which judges said could be used as a “weapon”. The song, composed in 2019, became popular during citywide pro-democracy protests that year.

The court decision underlines the increasingly difficult operating conditions for technology companies in Hong Kong, which previously enjoyed unfettered access to the open internet, as the government heightens its focus on national security following the protests in 2019.

Local officials including Paul Lam, Hong Kong’s justice minister, asked Google, YouTube’s parent company, to remove the content after the injunction was issued. It was still available on iTunes and Spotify, among other platforms, on Wednesday.

The Asia Internet Coalition, which counts X, Apple, Spotify and Meta among its members, said last week the group was “assessing the implications” of the court injunction and its impact on businesses. 

Amnesty International said last week that the court ban represented a “senseless attack on Hongkongers’ freedom of expression” and a “worrying sign” of shrinking freedoms in the territory.

The US state department said the court ban was a “blow to the international reputation” of Hong Kong and would deepen concerns about the erosion of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.

Authorities in Hong Kong had previously asked Google multiple times to amend its search results and rank the Chinese national anthem, “March of the Volunteers”, above “Glory to Hong Kong”. The requests, which Google refused, were made months before the government filed an injunction request to Hong Kong’s court in June last year.

“Glory to Hong Kong” has been played in error at multiple international sporting events representing Hong Kong athletes, drawing the ire of local officials. The city does not have its own official anthem and instead uses “March of the Volunteers”, the Chinese national anthem.

A Hong Kong judge denied the government’s initial request for an injunction in July, leading authorities to appeal against the decision.

The song topped local iTunes charts in June last year after the government first filed for the court injunction as residents moved to download and preserve versions of it.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Wednesday it was “necessary” for Hong Kong to prevent people from disseminating the song with the intention of “inciting secession and insulting our national anthem”.

Additional reporting by Stephen Morris in San Francisco


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