Source: CNN

YouTube has blocked access to a popular protest song in Hong Kong, a week after a court in the city granted a government request to ban the anthem.

In a statement on Wednesday, YouTube said 32 web links playing “Glory to Hong Kong” have been geoblocked and are now unavailable in the semi autonomous Chinese city following a court order.

Attempts to access the videos, which include instrumental and sign language versions of the song, from Hong Kong yielded messages such as “This content is not available on this country domain due to a court order” or “This video isn’t available anymore.”

“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. We’ll continue to consider our options for an appeal, to promote access to information,” a YouTube spokesperson said in an emailed reply to CNN.

Google (GOOGL), which owns Youtube, told CNN in an emailed reply last week that “it is reviewing the court’s judgment.”

CNN has also reached out to Meta (META) — which owns Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram — and Spotify (SPOT).

“Glory to Hong Kong” was composed by a musician under a pseudonym in August 2019 and became the unofficial anthem of pro-democracy protests. The authorities have long taken issue with what they say is the song’s separatist undertones.

The ballad contains lyrics that reference the phrase “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” a protest slogan that was already outlawed in 2020. The Hong Kong government and courts had said the phrase had secessionist and subversive connotations.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters Wednesday that “preventing anyone from using and disseminating relevant songs with the intention of inciting secession and insulting the national anthem is a legitimate and necessary measure” for Hong Kong “to fulfil its responsibilities of safeguarding national security and the dignity of the national anthem.”

The Asia Internet Coalition, which counts Spotify and Meta as members, said it is “assessing the implications of the decision,” including how the injunction will be implemented, 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 Jeff Paine, the group’s managing director.

A Hong Kong government spokesperson said “freedoms are not absolute”.

Over the past two years, “Glory to Hong Kong” has been mistakenly played at international sporting events involving Hong Kong teams, instead of China’s national anthem “March of the Volunteers.”

Pro-Beijing politicians and officials, including the city’s justice minister, Paul Lam, have mostly blamed Google’s algorithm for letting the song come up at the top of searches.

Last June, Hong Kong’s Department of Justice filed a court injunction to seek a ban on the broadcasting or distribution of the song. The injunction was initially rejected but was overturned last week following an appeal.

Hong Kong was promised key freedoms and autonomy to run its own affairs after it was handed over from British rule to China in 1997. As a result, it had flourished as a bastion of free speech and creative expression within authoritarian China.

But a crackdown on dissent in the aftermath of the democracy protests has since transformed the city, especially after a sweeping national security law was imposed by Beijing in 2020. This year, a second local security bill, known as Article 23, was passed targets seditious acts, espionage and foreign interference.

China and Hong Kong’s leaders say the laws are needed as part of their drive to “restore stability” following huge and often violent democracy protests in 2019 and argue their legislation is similar to other national security laws around the world.

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