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Hong Kong court refuses to ban popular protest song, government plans to appeal decision

A court in Hong Kong refused to ban a popular protest song on July 28, 2023. lawmakers in the country plan to appeal the court's decision.

Hong Kong government said Monday it was seeking to appeal against the court's refusal to ban a popular protest song at its request, renewing worries over further erosion of freedom of expression in the city.

The court’s decision on July 28 was a setback for Hong Kong leaders who are trying to crush dissidents after a massive pro-democracy movement four years ago pushed hundreds of thousands of people into the streets.

Drama ensued after the popular "Glory to Hong Kong" — written during the 2019 protests with lyrics calling for democracy and liberty — was mistakenly played as the city's anthem at international sporting events instead of China’s "March of the Volunteers."

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The Department of Justice said in a statement that its secretary, who acted as "a guardian of public interest," pressed for the ban on the basis of safeguarding national security. The court can decide whether to review or dismiss the request for an appeal.

The department did not share further its legal grounds for the appeal in the statement.

The announcement came after multiple pro-Beijing lawmakers urged the department to file an appeal. The government's move has renewed concern over possible ramifications caused by the ban.

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Critics have warned that granting the request to prohibit the broadcast or distribution of the song would add to a decline in civil liberties since Beijing launched a crackdown following the 2019 protests. They said granting the court order might disrupt the operations of tech giants and hurt the city’s appeal as a business center.

The government went to the court in June after Google resisted pressure to display China’s national anthem as the top result in searches for the city’s anthem instead of "Glory to Hong Kong."

The proposed injunction would target anyone who uses the song to advocate for the separation of Hong Kong from China. The government also would also seek to ban any actions using the song to incite others to commit secession and insult the national anthem, including online.

The department’s announcement came days after several major political parties pushed for an appeal, so there are clearly some increasing political pressures on the case, said George Chen, managing director at The Asia Group, a Washington-based business and policy consultancy.

Chen said the case will become a good testament to judicial independence in the financial hub.

"The world will watch how the new arguments will be made and justified in court, and how the court can strike a good balance on national security and free speech," he said.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and was promised that it could keep its Western-style civil liberties intact for 50 years after the handover. But a national security law imposed by Beijing coupled with other changes in recent years have shrunk the openness and freedoms that were once hallmarks of the city.

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