“Glory to Hong Kong” Protest Anthem Removal Raises International Legal and Free Speech Concerns

Last Updated on May 25, 2024 5:21 pm

The Hong Kong protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong” has been removed from various streaming platforms by UK-based digital music distributor EmuBands following a court injunction in Hong Kong. The move, which was confirmed by DGX Music, the mostly anonymous group of musicians behind the song, has sparked a debate over the injunction’s reach and its implications for free speech.

On Friday, DGX Music announced via Instagram that EmuBands had notified them of the removal, affecting major platforms such as iTunes and Apple Music. “We have expressed our opposition to EmuBands, pointing out that the injunction does not have extraterritorial jurisdiction,” DGX Music stated. “More importantly, the song itself is not banned by the injunction.” The group remains hopeful that the anthem will be redistributed soon.

EmuBands, headquartered in Glasgow, Scotland, has not commented on the situation.

“Glory to Hong Kong,” written in 2019 during widespread pro-democracy protests, quickly became an alternative anthem to China’s “March of the Volunteers.” Despite its significance, the Hong Kong Court of Appeal granted the government’s request on May 8 to outlaw the song, reversing a lower court’s decision which had highlighted the potential “chilling effects” on free speech.

In response to the court’s decision, YouTube, part of Alphabet Inc., has geoblocked the song for viewers in Hong Kong since mid-May. The Hong Kong government, led by Chief Executive John Lee, has stated its commitment to enforcing the court order, indicating that they will notify platforms of non-compliance when detected.

The US government criticized the ban, suggesting it would damage Hong Kong’s standing as a global financial hub. Conversely, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman defended the action as necessary for maintaining national security.

Eric Lai, a fellow at the Center for Asian Law at Georgetown University, emphasized that the court ruling does not enforce a global ban. “Indeed the court ruling didn’t impose a blanket ban on the song. It allows exemptions to journalistic and academic activities,” Lai explained. He also pointed out that a global removal contradicts the court’s exemptions.

Lokman Tsui, a fellow at the Citizen Lab, University of Toronto, noted the broader implications of the Hong Kong government’s actions, suggesting that they have pressured international companies to comply with censorship demands. “The Hong Kong government has pressured companies to censor a song around the world, just because they feel it’s embarrassing them,” Tsui remarked.

The removal of “Glory to Hong Kong” highlights the ongoing tension between national security measures and freedom of expression, as well as the complex legal landscape when local court rulings intersect with global digital platforms. As DGX Music and its supporters continue to seek ways to restore the anthem online, the situation underscores the challenges faced by digital content distributors in navigating international legal and political pressures.

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