The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) is looking to intervene in a legal bid by the government to ban all forms of the protest song Glory to Hong Kong, in the hopes of gaining an exemption for media reporting. A statement on Thursday said the press group wants to “protect the work of journalists.”

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Journalists in Hong Kong. File photo: GovHK.

“The association believes that the court should consider the effect of the injunction on the work of journalists…” it said, adding that it has already written to the Department of Justice (DoJ) and appointed a lawyer.

On June 5, the DoJ submitted a writ seeking to ban the “broadcasting, performing, printing, publishing, selling, offering for sale, distributing, disseminating, displaying or reproducing [Glory to Hong Kong],” including on the internet. Anyone with a secessionist or seditious intent, or with the intent to violate the national anthem law, would be liable. Anyone who assisted others to commit such acts would also be liable.

The legal bid for an injunction – and interim injunction – came days after a busker, known for performing the song, was acquitted of organising a banned gathering under Covid-19 rules.. However, on June 12, the Court of First Instance adjourned the injunction hearing until July 21, as the authorities appealed for anyone with an objection to come forward.

In its Thursday statement, the HKJA said that this was not the first time it had made an application with regards to a court injunction. During the protests and unrest of 2019, when Hong Kong obtained a court order to ban the disclosure of personal data linked to police officers and their families, the HKJA successfully fought for a blanket exception for media based on press freedom arguments.

It said that it had no intention to share or distribute the offending song, which is already banned in schools.

Is Glory to Hong Kong already illegal?

The government has refused to say whether Glory to Hong Kong is illegal when asked by HKFP, despite the authorities’ insistence that the law is clear. Nevertheless, the recent effort to ban all forms of the song was preceded by other legal moves and arrests related to the song, which was popularised during the pro-democracy demonstrations and unrest of 2019.

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

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On June 30 of that year, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts.

Days later, the government said the 2019 protest movement’s “Liberate Hong Kong” slogan – which is referenced in the song – was illegal. It claimed the phrase had a pro-independence, secessionist and subversive intent, despite the fact that independence was never a demand of the 2019 movement.

Then, a week later, on July 8, the Education Bureau banned students from playing, singing or broadcasting Glory to Hong Kong on campuses, saying it contained “strong political messages” and was closely linked to violence and other illegal acts.

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In the years since the protests, buskers known for singing the song have been arrested for “public disorder” or for performing without a permit. One was cleared of wrongdoing, whilst another’s trial is still ongoing.

Another man was arrested for suspected “sedition” last year after sharing a video linked to the song.

Anthem mix-ups

The song itself has also been the subject of a string of anthem-related mix-ups after protesters promoted it as an alternative anthem for a future Hong Kong. The months-long saga began last November, when Glory to Hong Kong 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.

Additional reporting: Hillary Leung.

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Tom founded Hong Kong Free Press in 2015 and is the editor-in-chief. In addition to editing, he is responsible for managing the newsroom and company - including fundraising, recruitment and overseeing HKFP's web presence and ethical guidelines.

He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He previously led an NGO advocating for domestic worker rights, and has contributed to the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Al-Jazeera and others.