Alphabet’s YouTube has reluctantly compiled with a court order in Hong Kong, and has blocked a protest anthem widely used by protesters in the former British colony.

The Associated Press reported that following a government application granted by Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal that requested the ban of the “Glory to Hong Kong” protest anthem, YouTube began blocking access to over 32 YouTube videos of the song that were deemed to be “prohibited publications” under the injunction.

AP reported that attempts to access the YouTube videos from Hong Kong on Wednesday showed that they were unavailable. A message showed saying that “This content is not available on this country domain due to a court order.”

Chinese clampdowns

The former British colony had returned to Chinese rule back in 1997, with a guarantee that its freedoms would be preserved under a “one country, two systems” formula.

But protests by hundreds of thousands people began in 2019 over an extradition bill that allowed people in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China to stand trial.

In July 2020 big name tech firms confirmed they would not give Hong Kong authorities any user data, after the passing of a draconian security law in Hong Kong, which the British government said at the time violated its Joint Declaration agreement between the two countries.

Indeed, such was the concern that the British government announced that Hong Kong citizens with a British overseas passport would be eligible for a route to full British citizenship.

In July 2021 there was a warning that Hong Kong’s increasing strict security and data protection laws could force some tech giants to stop providing services in the city.

That Chinese national security law essentially criminalised secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers, and critics said the law was a sweeping change that was an attack on freedom of speech and the press.

Indeed, it allowed local police to order social media platforms, publishers and internet service providers to remove any electronic message that was likely to constitute an offence endangering national security or is likely to cause such an offence to occur.

Google had actually withdrawn its search engine out of mainland China back in 2010, after Chinese hackers had compromised the Gmail accounts of dissidents. It resulted in Google effectively retreating from the Chinese market after it refused to abide by that country’s strict censorship rules.

YouTube and many other Google services are still not available in mainland China.

Anthem blocked

Now YouTube has been forced to block the protest anthem.

In approving the government’s application to ban the song, the court in Hong Kong had agreed it could be “weaponised” and used to incite secession.

“Glory to Hong Kong” was written in 2019 during widespread pro-democracy protests that year, and became an unofficial alternative anthem to China’s “March of the Volunteers.”

“We are disappointed by the court’s decision but are complying with its removal order by blocking access to the listed videos for viewers in Hong Kong,” YouTube said in an emailed statement to the Associated Press.

“We’ll continue to consider our options for an appeal, to promote access to information,” the company said.

YouTube added that it shared the concerns of human rights organisations about the chilling effect the ban would have on free expression online.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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