Protest song Glory to Hong Kong dominated all positions in Apple’s Hong Kong iTunes Top 10 on Wednesday, a day after the government sought to ban “unlawful acts” relating to the song, its melody, lyrics and all derivations.

Glory to Hong Kong on the iTunes store
Glory to Hong Kong on the iTunes store. Photo: HKFP screenshot.

On Monday, the government requested a legal injunction, and interim injunction, to ban unlawful acts relating to the 2019 protest anthem, 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.

iTunes chart positionMovementArtist and title
1+2Thomas DGX YHL – 願榮光歸香港
2+6Thomas DGX YHL – 願榮光歸香港 (進行曲)
3+17Thomas DGX YHL – 願榮光歸香港 (純音樂)
4New entryThomas DGX YHL – Glory to Hong Kong
5+28Thomas DGX YHL – 願榮光歸香港 (聖光版)
6+100Thomas DGX YHL – 願榮光歸香港 (純樂器版)
7+92Thomas DGX YHL – Glory to Hong Kong
8New entryThomas DGX YHL – Glory to Hong Kong (Luminous)
9New entryThe Chairman – Glory to Hong Kong!
Variations of Glory to Hong Kong dominated all positions in the iTunes top 10 on Wednesday.

According to a Tuesday press release, the writ from the Department of Justice 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.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Regina Ip told HK01 on Wednesday that she thought the iTunes charts showed that someone was attempting to a spread secessionist and seditious song before an injunction was applied.

Lawmaker Regina Ip reacting to the 2023 Budget on February 22, 2023.
Lawmaker Regina Ip. File Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The justice department’s writ also claimed that the song was “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.

The department declined to answer questions from HKFP on Wednesday, citing court proceedings.

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

Press freedom questions

When asked whether media outlets would have to remove news reports that contained the song, senior counsel and Executive Council member Ronny Tong told Commercial Radio on Wednesday that outlets should be fine if they were conducting genuine journalism.

“Media [outlets] conducting bona fide journalism… if it is genuine, there would not be criminal intent, then – of course – it should not be in violation of the injunction,” Tong said.

Ronny Tong
Ronny Tong. File Photo: Eric Cheung/HKFP.

“However, we also need to prevent people from using journalism as an excuse to promote Hong Kong independence, if situations like that happen, then the court would need to handle it,” Tong added. “To put it simply, when you are reporting on the incident, do you need to play the entire song from start to finish? Is it bona fide journalism when you play [the song] from its start to finish? The court would have to consider these,” he said.

The ex-lawmaker also said that, while having the song for archival purposes would not count as promoting it, allowing anyone to download the song would count as promotion.

Speaking on RTHK on the same day, he said the court might not impose the ban exactly as the justice department requested. He added that the song was well known but it was in violation of One Country, Two Systems and national security.

Glory to Hong Kong
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Monday’s writ contained 32 links to YouTube videos related to the song, though almost half a dozen more copies have appeared on the platform since then.

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.

HKFP has contacted Meta, Google and Twitter for comment, as well as streaming and archival platforms. 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.

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.

Ice Hockey Match Hong Kong Iran National anthem blunder
The protest song Glory to Hong Kong was heard instead of China’s Marches of the People during an ice hockey match between Hong Kong and Iran on February 28. Photo: Screenshot, via Hokejaški Savez Bosne i Hercegovine.

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.

Additional reporting: Candice Chau.

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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.