The government is seeking a legal injunction, and interim injunction, to ban unlawful acts relating to the 2019 protest song Glory to Hong Kong, the lyrics of which contain a slogan that has been deemed a call for secession. It comes almost three years after the authorities were unable to give a clear answer as to its legality, though it has already been banned in schools.

According to a Tuesday press release, a writ from the Department of Justice – filed on Monday – seeks to ban the “broadcasting, performing, printing, publishing, selling, offering for sale, distributing, disseminating, displaying or reproducing in any way (including on the internet and/or any media accessible online and/or any internet-based platform or medium) the Song.” Those who commit such acts will be criminally liable if they are found to have intended to commit sedition or secession.

Glory to Hong Kong
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Citing the Beijing-imposed national security law, the sedition law, and the national anthem law, the legal provisos would also ban the melody, lyrics and any adaptations of the song. Pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho is among those known to have parodied the song.

The move comes almost a week after a busker, known for his public renditions of Glory to Hong Kong was cleared of charges by a court amid doubts over police testimony. Last Friday, a Hong Kong court also adjourned the verdict in the first trial relating to insulting the Chinese national anthem, after a magistrate cleared doubts over a police sergeant’s expert testimony.

The 2019 protest song’s lyrics and melody would also be banned, with the “broadcasting, performing, printing, publishing, selling” or parodies potentially attracting criminal charges.

The justice department claimed that the song is “likely to be mistaken as the national anthem,” and that its existence could suggest that the city has an anthem of its own or could encourage others to commit seditious acts. Injunctions would protect the national anthem from insult, it added.

It also pointed to lyrics which are banned under the security law. The phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” referenced in the song, has connotations of Hong Kong independence, or separating the city from China, altering its legal status or subverting state power, the government has said.

Department of Justice
Hong Kong Department of Justice. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The song, and the slogan – coined in 2016 by ex-localist leader Edward Leung, ousted lawmaker Baggio Leung and a former Youngspiration member – was popularised during the city’s month’s long, pro-democracy protests and unrest in 2019.

Those who assist others in committing an offense relating to the song would also be criminally liable, if the injunctions are granted.

The department said the injunctions would complement existing laws: “The HKSAR Government respects and values the rights and freedoms protected by the Basic Law (including freedom of speech), but freedom of speech is not absolute.”

When asked how the injunctions could be applied to foreign-hosted or owned websites and social media sites, and whether the rules would be retrospective or enforced against news media, the justice department sent a link to its original press release. When pressed, a spokesperson said: “As legal proceedings are in progress, the Department of Justice will not comment further.”

China’s anthem, March of the Volunteers, is officially Hong Kong’s national anthem.

Internet censorship?

With multiple copies of the song hosted on websites such as YouTube and social media platforms – in various forms and languages – it is unclear whether the move would herald the advent of internet censorship in the city. It is also unclear how the rules would be applied internationally to websites hosted abroad, or whether the injunctions would be retroactive.

Monday’s writ contained 32 links to YouTube videos related to the song.

Last year, Google refused to take action over its search results, when searches for “Hong Kong national anthem” led to the Wikipedia page for the protest song. The security chief said the company’s inaction “hurt the feelings of Hong Kong people,” though it was only in April that the government updated its own page with official anthem details. The page shot to the top of search results.

YouTube video

The US tech firm has vowed to decline data requests made under the security law, and left China amid rising internet censorship in 2010.

HKFP has contacted Meta, Google and Twitter for comment. Twitter responded to enquiries with a “poop” emoji.

Anthem mix-ups

The months-long anthem saga began last November, when the protest song was heard at a Rugby Sevens game in South Korea after an intern reportedly downloaded it from the internet.

glory to hong kong anthem
Susanna Lin at the Asian Classic Powerlifting Championship 2022 in Dubai on Friday, December 11, 2022. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

Similar mix-ups occurred at international sporting finals, including at a prizegiving ceremony of a weightlifting championship in Dubai and most recently at a February ice hockey game in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

Hong Kong’s national anthem law, which criminalises insults to March of the Volunteers, was enacted on June 4, 2020 – violators risk fines up to HK$50,000 or three years in prison.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.