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Judge Rejects Hong Kong’s Bid to Ban Pro-Democracy Song From Internet

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The Hong Kong authorities suffered a surprising setback on Friday when a judge denied their request to ban a popular pro-democracy song from the internet.

The government was seeking an injunction that could have given it the power to force Google and other tech companies to restrict access to the song.

Since coming under the tighter grip of Beijing several years ago, Hong Kong has jailed political opponents, quashed street protest and shuttered pro-democracy newspapers. But the internet, unlike in mainland China, has remained largely free of government control.

At issue in Friday’s ruling was “Glory to Hong Kong,” which was the unofficial anthem of 2019 democracy protests and a continuing flashpoint for the authorities, who consider it an insult to China’s national anthem. It has been banned from Hong Kong schools and has drawn angry official rebukes when played, apparently by mistake, at sports competitions.

The Hong Kong government was seeking a court injunction against the publication or distribution of “Glory to Hong Kong” with “seditious intention” on the internet or in other media.

But Judge Anthony Chan denied the request, ruling that the government’s request was too broad and effectively targeted everyone in Hong Kong. He wrote that the injunction could have had a “chilling effect” on free speech in Hong Kong.

“Freedom of expression is not absolute in nature but is nonetheless a highly important right that cannot be lawfully restricted without the requirements of legal certainty and proportionality being met,” he added.

Judge Chan also said that it would be wrong to grant the injunction because existing criminal laws already give the authorities the power to prosecute people for spreading the song, and that this ban would have been difficult to enforce and unnecessary. Numerous people in Hong Kong have been arrested or charged for playing the song in public.

The legal case has been closely watched in the Hong Kong business and tech communities. Foreign firms seeking access to China have long seen the city as an attractive hub, away from censorship controls in the rest of the country.

The Hong Kong government argued in court that “Glory to Hong Kong” should be banned because it could mislead others into thinking that Hong Kong is an independent state. When Google refused a public request to remove the song in December, Hong Kong’s security chief called the company’s decision “unthinkable.”

The injunction request filed by the government in June did not name Google but listed 32 links to “Glory to Hong Kong” on Google or its sibling company YouTube.

The Department of Justice and the office of Hong Kong’s leader, John Lee, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Google said Friday it would have no comment on the ruling.

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