This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
A court in Hong Kong on Friday rejected the government’s bid to impose an injunction on performances of and references to “Glory to Hong Kong,” the banned anthem of the 2019 protest movement, citing a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression.
The government had wanted the court to grant the ban on broadcasting or distributing the song or its lyrics, which the government says advocate “independence” for the city, and which has been mistakenly played at international sporting events instead of the Chinese anthem, “March of the Volunteers.”
But High Court Judge Anthony Chan said he couldn’t see how an injunction, which the government wanted to include online platforms, would help.
“I am unable to see a solid basis for believing that the invocation of the civil jurisdiction can assist in the enforcement of the law in question,” Chan said in the ruling.
The anthem was regularly sung by crowds of unarmed protesters during the 2019 protest movement, which ranged from peaceful demonstrations for full democracy to intermittent, pitched battles between “front-line” protesters and armed riot police, and was banned in 2020 as Beijing imposed a draconian national security law on the city.
The song calls for freedom and democracy rather than independence, but was nonetheless deemed in breach of the law due to its “separatist” intent, officials and police officers said at the start of an ongoing citywide crackdown on public dissent and peaceful political activism.
The song is still frequently sung by pro-democracy activists outside of Hong Kong.
In a decision seen as a partial reprieve for dwindling freedom of expression in the city, the court also took into account the potential “chilling effect” an injunction would have on freedom of expression and its effect on “innocent third parties.”
The judgment went on to say that contempt proceedings for breach of an injunction would involve proving the relevant criminal offense and would therefore not be easy to enforce. There was also a risk of “double jeopardy,” in which a person could potentially be prosecuted for overlapping offenses under the National Security Law and for breach of the injunction, it said.
The government had argued that the injunction was necessary to prevent people disseminating the song anonymously, and to prevent its use at public events “which can arouse certain emotions and incite people to secession, endangering national security.”
Hong Kong’s leader John Lee said his administration would be “studying the matter and following up.”
“The Special Administrative Region government has a duty to effectively prevent, stop and punish actions and activities that endanger national security,” Lee told journalists in Kuala Lumpur on Friday. “I have asked the Department of Justice to study the verdict actively and follow up as soon as possible.”
He said anyone who calls the song “the true national anthem of Hong Kong” is breaking the National Anthem Law banning insults to China’s national anthem.
“The threat of endangering national security can come suddenly, so we must take effective measures to prevent it,” he said.
Law bans insults to PRC anthem
Hong Kong passed a national anthem law in June 2020 banning ‘insults’ to the Chinese national anthem after Hong Kong soccer fans repeatedly booed, yelled Cantonese obscenities or turned their backs when it was played at matches.
In November, Hong Kong police announced a criminal investigation into the playing of “Glory to Hong Kong” at a rugby match in South Korea.
Hong Kong Journalists’ Association president Ronson Chan welcomed the court’s ruling.
“I welcome this ruling, which is very reasonable,” Chan said. “I agree that the relevant matters are already covered by criminal law, so there is no need for an injunction.”
“I’d like to thank the judge for pointing out … the potential for a chilling effect in the exercise of such powers,” he said.
“If we want to tell good stories about Hong Kong, I don’t think further restrictions are a good idea,” Chan said.
The government has repeatedly said that it respects freedoms protected by the city’s constitution, “but freedom of speech is not absolute.”
“The application pursues the legitimate aim of safeguarding national security and is necessary, reasonable, legitimate, and consistent with the Bill of Rights,” it said in a statement about the injunction application last month.
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