A Hong Kong court rejected a ban on broadcasting or distributing the protest song Glory to Hong Kong", in a landmark decision that rejected a challenge to freedom of expression in the city.
The song was written during mass protests against the government in the Chinese territory in 2019 and its lyrics call for democracy and liberty. The song has since been mistakenly played at several international sporting events instead of China's national anthem, March of the Volunteers.
Judge Anthony Chan on Friday refused to grant the ban, which would have targeted anyone who uses the song to advocate for the separation of Hong Kong from China.
In seeking the court order, the government also sought to ban actions that use the song to incite others to commit secession and to insult the national anthem, including such acts carried out online.
Critics earlier voiced worries that the ban the government asked for would have a far-reaching impact on the city's freedoms of expression and information, which have become increasingly threadbare under Beijing's crackdown on the city's pro-democracy movement.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and was promised it could keep its Western-style civil liberties intact for 50 years after the handover. But a Beijing-imposed national security law and other changes since the 2019 protests have shrunk the openness and freedoms that were once hallmarks of the city.
The city's secretary for justice sought the injunction last month after the song was mistakenly played as the city's anthem at international events. And a mix-up in an ice hockey competition in February resulted in the city's top sports body reprimanding the Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association, which appealed for forgiveness for what it called an independent and unfortunate event.
The Hong Kong government has tried to push Google to display China's national anthem as the top result in searches for the city's anthem instead of the song but to no avail.
Google told the government to present a court order proving the song violated local laws before it could be removed, according to Secretary for Innovation, Technology and Industry Sun Dong.
The government therefore decided to deal with the matter by legal means, he said in an interview with a local broadcaster.
Google did not reply to a request for comment on its previous exchanges with officials.
The government said the lyrics contain a slogan that could constitute a call for secession. The song was already banned at schools.
The government said it respected freedoms protected by the city's constitution but freedom of speech is not absolute".
The application pursues the legitimate aim of safeguarding national security and is necessary, reasonable, legitimate, and consistent with the Bill of Rights, it said in a statement last month.
The 2019 protests were sparked by a proposed extradition law which would have allowed Hong Kong criminal suspects to be sent to the mainland for trial. The government withdrew the bill, but the protesters widened their demands to include direct elections for the city's leaders and police accountability.