YouTube blocks protest anthem in Hong Kong after court order banning the song

YouTube has said it will comply with a court decision and block access inside Hong Kong to 32 videos deemed prohibited content, in what critics say is a blow to freedoms in the financial hub amid a security clampdown.

The action follows a government application granted by Hong Kong’s court of appeal requesting the ban of a protest anthem called Glory to Hong Kong. The judges warned that dissidents seeking to incite secession could weaponise the song for use against the state.

A spokesperson for YouTube said the geo-blocking of videos would take effect immediately for viewers in Hong Kong. Attempts to view the song on YouTube from Hong Kong displayed the message: “This content is not available on this country domain due to a court order.”

However, as of midday, some versions were still accessible, as well as others on platforms such as Spotify, Hong Kong Free Press reported.

Eventually, links to the videos will no longer show up on Google Search in Hong Kong as the company’s systems process the changes, YouTube said.

In comments criticising the court order, YouTube said the ruling would raise skepticism over the Hong Kong government’s work to foster the digital economy and reclaim its reputation as an easy place for doing business.

“We are disappointed by the Court’s decision but are complying with its removal order,” YouTube said in a statement, saying it shared human rights groups’ concerns that the content ban could chill free expression online.

“We’ll continue to consider our options for an appeal, to promote access to information.”

The US government is among a number of groups who have said the ban will further undermine Hong Kong’s international reputation as a financial hub, and raise concerns about the erosion of freedoms and its commitment to the free flow of information.

“It is not a desirable situation from the perspective of free internet and free speech,” said George Chen, co-chair of digital practice at the Asia Group, a Washington DC-based business policy consultancy.

“Now the question is how far and how aggressive the government wants to go,” Chen added. “If you start to send platforms 100 or 1,000 links for takedown every day, this will drive platforms crazy and also make global investors more worried about Hong Kong’s free market environment.”

Industry groups, including the Asia Internet Coalition, which represents big tech firms like Meta, Apple and Google, have said keeping a free and open internet in Hong Kong is “fundamental” to maintaining the city’s edge.

The Hong Kong government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The action is not a worldwide first for the US technology sector or YouTube’s owner, Google parent Alphabet, which has restricted items when legally required to do so. In China, it has removed content.

Glory to Hong Kong was secretly recorded by an anonymous orchestra and grew popular during the 2019 protests. Its defiant lyrics include words like “freedom”, “courage” and “a return of glory to Hong Kong in this era of revolution” – a slogan frequently used by protesters.

In 2019, singing sessions spread across the city, as thousands gathered at shopping centres and football matches to sing the anthem.

It has in recent years been played at several international sporting events, with event organisers mistaking it for the Chinese territory’s anthem, angering the city’s government.

The song was officially banned last week, after a campaign by the city’s authorities against the song, which has seen them demand it be removed from Google’s internet search results and other content-sharing platforms – a request that had until now been largely rejected.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson has said that stopping the song’s spread was necessary for Hong Kong to safeguard national security.

The Guardian

Leave a Reply