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The saga of Hong Kong's protest anthem, which authorities are trying to ban


Authorities in Hong Kong appear to be dead-set on banning a song. It's called "Glory To Hong Kong." The tune emerged as a protest anthem during anti-government demonstrations in the city four years ago. Late last month, a judge rejected a government request that would have outlawed performance and distribution of the song. But as NPR's John Ruwitch reports, the government is appealing, setting up a showdown with major internet companies.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: "Glory To Hong Kong" is already banned in schools, and people have been arrested for playing it in public. But the government wants it scrubbed from websites and music streaming platforms. In part because this kept happening at sporting events.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the national anthem of Hong Kong.


RUWITCH: That's "Glory To Hong Kong" being played at a medal ceremony during the 2022 Asian Classic Powerlifting Championship in Dubai. It's not the city's national anthem. China's "March Of The Volunteers" is. But it comes up in online searches, and the government's requests for platforms to remove it were rebuffed.

HO-FUNG HUNG: Now they resort to this kind of court action to make sure that the internet company, including Google and many others, will take down the song.

RUWITCH: That's Ho-fung Hung, a professor of political economy at Johns Hopkins University. He says the court's ruling shows that some judges in the former British colony are still willing to rule on strict legal reasoning rather than yielding to political pressure. The appeal will be a test. George Chen is managing director in Hong Kong for the consultancy The Asia Group.

GEORGE CHEN: So the case will be also viewed by many, you know, lawyers, legal professionals, as a testament of, you know, how much independent judiciary in Hong Kong still has.

RUWITCH: If the appellate court upholds the original ruling, the government may take it to the Court of Final Appeal and possibly even China's legislature to get a favorable ruling. Ho-fung Hung of Johns Hopkins says if the government succeeds, it'll use the injunction to press internet companies like Google, Facebook and others to remove the song.

HUNG: If they don't comply, then they would be violating the Hong Kong law and injunction. Then the staff and the company will be in legal trouble.

RUWITCH: But if they do comply, he says, they may come under pressure outside of China for helping the Hong Kong government crack down on free speech.

John Ruwitch, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.