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Hong Kong’s Anthem Ban Sparks International Free Speech Concerns

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A judicial decision that has sparked international concern over free speech, Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal has outlawed the protest song “Glory to Hong Kong,” a piece that gained prominence during the 2019 pro-democracy protests. The court’s ruling described the song as a tool used to incite the protests, marking a significant move in the ongoing suppression of dissent in the region.

The appeal court’s judgment, delivered on Wednesday, overturned a previous High Court decision that had denied a government injunction against the song, citing potential negative impacts on third parties. Appeal judge Jeremy Poon asserted that the song’s composer had crafted it to serve as a weapon in the protests, stating, “It had been used as an impetus to propel the violent protests plaguing Hong Kong since 2019. It is powerful in arousing emotions among certain fractions of the society.”

The government’s successful appeal means the song can no longer be legally broadcast, performed with intent deemed criminal, or shared across internet platforms, though exceptions are made for academic and journalistic purposes. This decision is part of a broader crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong, which has included the incarceration of numerous pro-democracy activists and the shuttering of independent media outlets.

Critics argue that this ruling further erodes the city’s once-vaunted rule of law and freedoms. The United States has expressed disapproval, with State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller remarking that the decision is “the latest blow to the international reputation of a city that previously prided itself on having an independent judiciary protecting the free exchange of information, ideas, and goods.”

The anthem, recorded anonymously by an orchestra, intertwines lyrics that echo key slogans from the 2019 protests, like “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.” Its popularity has extended beyond Hong Kong, often being confused for the city’s national anthem at international sports events, a misconception that has repeatedly irked local authorities.

This legal move comes after Hong Kong officials previously sought to have the song removed from online platforms like Google, which largely resisted the requests until backed by a court order. Justice Secretary Paul Lam stated, “The government … will communicate with relevant internet service providers, request or demand them to remove relevant content in accordance with the injunction order.”

This song ban is not an isolated incident but follows a series of measures aimed at tightening control under the guise of national security, including expansive laws imposed by Beijing that target the city’s autonomy and freedoms. These developments have drawn sharp criticism from international observers and further complicated Hong Kong’s global standing.

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