This article was written by Oiwan Lam and originally published on the Global Voices webpage on the 24th of June 2023. The article is republished here in accordance with the media partnership between Global Voices and Shouts.
After Hong Kong’s High Court postponed the hearing of the Department of Justice’s (DoJ’s) application for injunctions for a complete ban on the protest song “Glory to Hong Kong,” the DoJ set up a counter at the Wan Chai police station, inviting anyone who opposes the injunctions to register and receive copies of the relevant documents by June 21, 2023.
The registered parties will be given another week to prepare for their submission to the court before the hearing reopens on July 21, 2023.
On the last day of the registration, more than 24 overseas human rights and digital rights groups issued an open letter urging international tech firms, including Apple, Google, Meta, Twitter, and Spotify, to “intervene and oppose the injunction,” stressing that it would have a “disastrous effect” on freedom of expression and information access, with global implications.
The injunctions, once passed, would force online platforms to take down the protest songs. While the DoJ stressed that the Hong Kong government was not aiming for a global takedown, human rights and digital rights groups suggested otherwise.
In the open letter, the groups pointed out that Meta was forced to remove content globally for 50 instances between July 2020 and June 2022. Also, evidence suggested that the Hong Kong authorities were monitoring social media content posted from overseas — in March this year, a 23-year-old student who studied in Japan and returned to Hong Kong was arrested for her Facebook posts. She was eventually charged with committing acts with “seditious intention” even though she was not in Hong Kong when she published the posts.
The groups thus stressed the “growing tendency of Hong Kong authorities to apply abusive laws outside Hong Kong’s territory.
Citing Google’s legal action in Canada over a global content removal request (Google v. Equustek Solutions Inc.), the groups urge tech giants to take similar actions to oppose the Hong Kong government’s injunctions:
“It is critical that internet intermediaries take a collective stance against Hong Kong’s censorship.”
In the court case between Google and Equustek Solutions in 2017, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that Google must block certain search results worldwide, but a U.S. court told Google not to comply as the Canadian court order violated the U.S. law to protect free speech.
Official versions of the protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong” abruptly vanished from major music streaming platforms on June 14, two days after the initial injunction application hearing. This triggered a panic that the song might be taken down across the internet.
The creator later explained that the move was to address some non-platform-related technical problems. One week later, on June 20, the creator uploaded the 2023 edition of the protest song with ten different versions to all platforms and stressed that the creative team opposed any act that curbs freedom of speech and thought.
The DoJ’s injunctions seek to prevent anyone from broadcasting, performing, printing, publishing, selling, offering for sale, distributing, disseminating, displaying, or reproducing the protest song in any media form, including on the internet that might (a) incite secession or sedition intentions, and (b) mislead others into thinking the song is Hong Kong’s national anthem or insult the national anthem. A list of 32 YouTube videos, which are different versions of the protest song, was attached to the writ.
Thus far, none of the big tech companies has responded to their users’ concerns, nor the Hong Kong government’s legal action.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Journalists Association stated that it would consider stepping into the court as an interested party in the injunction hearing on the protest song. The organization stressed its role as an interested party rather than a defendant, as it had no intention of distributing the song. Its bid is to protect press freedom by asking the court to exempt journalistic practice from the injunction orders.