A popular song from Hong Kong’s democracy movement has begun to disappear from several major music streaming sites – including in some locations overseas – days after the Chinese business hub’s local government filed an injunction to ban the tune.
“Glory to Hong Kong” was created in 2019 and became the unofficial anthem of the now crushed democracy protests in the city, with demonstrators singing renditions throughout the mass protests that raged across the city for months on end that year.
The ballad contains lyrics that reference the phrase “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” a protest slogan that has been already outlawed in 2020 for what the government and courts have declared are the phrase’s secessionist and subversive connotations.
Multiple versions of the song posted by “ThomasDGX & HongKongers,” known to be the original composer of the orchestral anthem, were no longer available on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and Google to users within the city on Wednesday.
Multiple versions and covers of the song have been recorded by other artists.
The titles of those covers can still be seen on Spotify in other parts of the world, including the United States, South Korea and Australia.
But when CNN reporters in those countries tried to play the songs they were listed as “unavailable.”
Spotify told CNN that the song was removed by the distributor and not by the platform.
Users in the US cannot purchase the song on Apple Music either, although it also still yields search results on the platform.
The song can no longer be found on Apple Music and KKBOX in Taiwan, however multiple versions of it are still available on YouTube.
CNN has reached out to YouTube, Apple Music, KKBOX, and Alphabet – the parent company of Google – for comment.
By Monday, several new uploads of the song reappeared on YouTube, and the tune could be found again on Spotify and Apple Music – even within Hong Kong.
A Facebook account tied to the original composers said they have re-uploaded the soundtrack on several music platforms as a “2023 Edition,” after initially saying last week that they were “dealing with some technical issues unrelated to the streaming services.”
“(We) stand firm against any attempts to suppress freedom of thought and speech,” the latest post on Monday said, adding that the composers back listeners’ “refusal to lose their freedom to choose music.”
CNN has reached out to the Hong Kong government for comment following the reappearance of the tracks.
Following its 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong was promised key freedoms and autonomy to run its own affairs. As a result it flourished as a bastion for free speech and creative expression within authoritarian China.
But a crackdown on dissent in the aftermath of the democracy protests has since transformed the city, especially after a sweeping national security law was imposed by Beijing in 2020.
Protest leaders have been arrested or driven into exile, while the government persists on scrubbing references to the social unrest and calls for democracy in the city. New laws have also been passed to increase censorship of films to “safeguard national security.”
Music is now coming under closer scrutiny.
Hong Kong’s government filed a court injunction on June 5 seeking to ban the broadcast or distribution of the protest song after it was mistakenly played at several international sporting events.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, city leader John Lee – a former police chief – said authorities were taking action because “Glory to Hong Kong” was “not compatible with the national interest.”
Under the injunction filed by the Department of Justice, the song’s “melody or lyrics or in combination” would be banned to avoid “inciting others to commit secession.”
It further seeks to restrain anyone from “broadcasting, performing, printing, publishing, selling, offering for sale, distributing, disseminating, displaying or reproducing (the song) in any way.”
The writ also listed 32 YouTube videos of the song, including instrumental and sign language versions.
The government’s bid to outlaw the song was heard in the High Court on Monday, but the judge has postponed a decision on the interim injunction to July 21, public broadcaster RTHK reported.
The head of Amnesty International’s China team, Sarah Brooks, described the government’s move to outlaw the song as “absurd.”
“The Hong Kong government must end its increasingly fervent crackdown on freedom of expression. A song is not a threat to national security, and national security may not be used as an excuse to deny people the right to express different political views,” Brooks said.
The semi-autonomous city does not have its own anthem. It uses the Chinese national anthem “March of the Volunteers” at events and in schools ever since it returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, while during the years under British rule, the city sang “God Save The Queen.”
The use of “Glory to Hong Kong” at international sporting events infuriated officials who previously criticized Google for listing the song in search results for the city’s anthem, something Google said was decided by its algorithm which returns results based on a host of criteria including popularity and relevance.
Playing the song in public in Hong Kong is now fraught with legal risk. Last year, a man who played the tune on a harmonica during a vigil for Britain’s late Queen Elizabeth II was arrested by police on suspicion of sedition.