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Students sit at exams on April 29, 2020, in Hong Kong, China.

Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Hong Kong’s education secretary Wednesday banned students from singing the protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong,” posting slogans with political messages or forming human chains, saying “the schools are obliged to stop” such activities.

The statement by the secretary, Kevin Yeung, ratcheted up the pressure on the pro-democracy movement as Hong Kong residents struggle to determine what is acceptable behaviour under a strict new national security law that China imposed on the semi-autonomous territory last week.

Students, including middle schoolers, have been a driving force in Hong Kong’s protest movement. Beijing’s imposition of the national security law last week – and the subsequent arrests of teenagers at protests – has led some families to express concerns that their children could be in jeopardy for singing pro-democracy songs or even for expressing such sentiments in their homes.

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Yeung issued the new guidelines in a statement responding to a question from a Hong Kong legislator, Ip Kin-Yuen.

The education secretary said that students had been “misled and incited to express their political stance in different ways (such as boycotting classes, chanting slogans, forming human chains, and posting slogans or singing songs which contain political messages in schools).”

Hong Kong’s education system has emerged as a particular target of the Chinese government and pro-Beijing forces in the city. China sees Hong Kong’s failure to impose a patriotic education curriculum in the schools as helping to turn them into breeding grounds for the radicalization of students. Hong Kong’s university campuses were the site of some of the most intense confrontations between the police and protesters last year.

In his statement, Yeung said that the unofficial anthem of the protest movement, “Glory to Hong Kong,” should not be played, broadcast or sung in schools. The song, written and composed anonymously and then modified in online forums popular with protesters, became a rallying cry at demonstrations during the year-long protests that engulfed the city.

The song, Yeung said, “contains strong political messages and is closely related to the social and political incidents, violence and illegal incidents that have lasted for months.”

“Therefore, schools must not allow students to play, sing or broadcast it in schools,” he added.

The new national security law prohibits any activities found to be secessionist, subversive or terrorist in nature.

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The Hong Kong government last week outlawed the main pro-democracy slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong – revolution of our times!,” which pro-Beijing elements in the city view as a call for independence from China. But independence was not one of the five demands of the pro-democracy movement.

The banning of “Glory to Hong Kong” at schools drew criticism as being “draconian.”

In calling for the curtailment of political behaviour at schools, the education secretary said that at least 1,600 students younger than 18 had been arrested in the protests.

“Schools are places for students to learn and grow,” he said. “They should not be used as a venue for anyone to express their political demands.”

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