YouTube blocks Hong Kong protest song after court order

YouTube blocks Hong Kong protest song after court order

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 song.

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

Attempts to access the video, which includes an instrumental and sign language version of the song, from Hong Kong resulted in messages such as “This content is not available in this country’s domain due to a court order” or “This video is no longer available.”

“We are disappointed by the Court’s decision but comply with its removal order by blocking access to the listed videos for viewers in Hong Kong. We will continue to consider our options for an appeal, to promote access to information,” a YouTube spokesperson said in an emailed response to CNN.

Google (GOOGL), which owns YouTube, told CNN in an email response last week that “it is reviewing the court’s ruling.”

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 with a pseudonym in August 2019 and became the unofficial anthem of pro-democracy protests. Authorities have long taken issue with what they say is the song’s divisive tone.

The ballad contains lyrics that reference the phrase “liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our time,” a protest slogan that has already been banned in 2020. The Hong Kong government and courts have said the phrase has separatist and subversive connotations.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on Wednesday that “preventing anyone from using and disseminating songs related to the intention of inciting secession and insulting the national anthem is a legitimate and necessary step” for Hong Kong “to fulfill its responsibility to safeguard national security and the dignity of the national anthem.”

The Asian 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 business.

“We believe that a free and open internet is fundamental to the city’s ambition to become an international hub of technology and innovation,” said Jeff Paine, the group’s managing director.

A Hong Kong government spokesman said “freedom is not absolute”.

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

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

Last June, the Hong Kong Department of Justice filed a court injunction to request a ban on the broadcast or distribution of the song. The injunction was initially refused but was overturned last week following an appeal.

Hong Kong was promised ultimate freedom and autonomy to run its own affairs after it was handed over from British rule to China in 1997. As a result, it has grown into a bastion of freedom of speech and creative expression in authoritarian China.

But a crackdown on dissent following pro-democracy protests has transformed the city, especially after a comprehensive national security law was imposed by Beijing in 2020. This year, a second local security bill, known as Article 23, was passed with inflammatory target. acts, espionage and foreign interference.

Chinese and Hong Kong leaders say the law is needed as part of their efforts to “restore stability” following large and often violent pro-democracy protests in 2019 and argue their legislation is similar to security laws of other countries around the world.

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