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YouTube to block access to protest song videos in Hong Kong following court ruling

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YouTube has announced its decision to block access in Hong Kong to videos featuring performances of the banned protest song “Glory to Hong Kong.” The move comes after Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal ruled the song illegal to sing or play in the city, stating that the song’s composer intended it to be used as a “weapon,” Voice of America reported.

In response to the court ruling, YouTube issued a statement expressing disappointment but confirming compliance with the removal order. The online video sharing service highlighted concerns about the potential chilling effect on free speech online and stated that it is considering options to file an appeal.

YouTube plans to block access to 32 videos of the song in Hong Kong, which were deemed “prohibited content” by the court.

A search for the banned videos on YouTube in Hong Kong now yields a message stating that they are “not available on this country domain due to a court order,” as reported by Voice of America.

The ban covers any broadcast or distribution of the song intended to promote Hong Kong’s independence or misrepresent it as the city’s official anthem. Despite being a semi-autonomous city, Hong Kong does not have its own anthem and uses mainland China’s official anthem, “March of the Volunteers.”

The Court of Appeal’s ruling overturns a previous decision by the High Court, which had cited concerns about free speech. The government pursued legal action last year to have the song banned after Google and other internet service providers refused to remove it from their search results. Both YouTube and Google are owned by California-based Alphabet.

This latest ban adds to a series of measures taken by the government to suppress dissenting voices since Beijing imposed a sweeping security law for Hong Kong in 2020 in response to the 2019 protests. The security law criminalises acts of terrorism, separatism, subversion of state power, or collusion with foreign forces. Since its enactment, hundreds of pro-democracy advocates have been arrested, tried, and jailed, leading to a stifling of the once-vibrant civil society in the city.

George Chen, co-chair of digital practice at the Washington-based consultancy Asia Group, expressed concerns that daily pressure from officials to remove online content could damage Hong Kong’s reputation as a global financial hub. Such actions may raise questions about the city’s commitment to allowing the free flow of information, Voice of America reported.