The organiser of the Hong Kong Tiananmen massacre vigil has called upon citizens to light candles across the city to mourn victims of the bloody 1989 crackdown in Beijing, as the annual Victoria Park event may not go ahead as planned under the extended coronavirus social gathering ban.

At the reopening of the June 4th Museum on Wednesday, Lee Cheuk-yan of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China accused the government of using the epidemic as a pretext to interfere with the vigil.

June 4th Museum
June 4th Museum reopens. Photo: screenshot.

Lee slammed the latest round of Covid-19 measures as “disproportionate,” as the government announced it would relax restrictions on religious gatherings – with senior secondary school students set to resume classes next Wednesday – but public gatherings of more than eight people would remain prohibited.

“It is very obvious what they are up to. It is very clear that they had a political objective of suppressing gathering[s] in Hong Kong,” he said.

Despite the ban, Lee said the alliance would still light candles in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay on that day. He said Hongkongers could do the same in different areas in the city individually, to “blossom everywhere” and turn the vigil into a city-wide tribute.

Victoria Park 2019 Jun Tiananmen Massacre vigil
June 4th vigil in 2019. Photo:

“Because of the gathering ban, police will not let you apply to hold a gathering in any place. But as individuals, we should have the right to pay tribute,” Lee said.

“When the light of one candle can spread across all of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories – with many candle lights – it will be a slap in [Carrie Lam’s] face,” he added.

The alliance said the final arrangement for the June 4th candlelight vigil remains uncertain. They have yet to hear back from the police, nor from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which manages the venue in Causeway Bay.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the government rejected allegations that political consideration were involved in its decision-making as “unfounded.” A spokesperson said: “The Government has introduced statutory restrictions on group gatherings in public places with a view to reducing risks of virus transmission. No political considerations have ever come into play.”

When challenged on Tuesday by HKFP over whether the police enforcement of guidelines was being politicised, Lam accused the reporter of “bias.”

Photo: Todd Darling/HKFP.
Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen Square Massacre vigil, 2019. Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

The Tiananmen crackdown occurred on June 4, 1989 ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on protesters in Beijing.

1989 and 2019 protests

Meanwhile, the exhibition at the June 4th Museum this year is a comparison between the student movement in Beijing 31 years ago and the months-long protests in Hong Kong. Last year’s city-wide unrest was triggered by a now-axed extradition bill, which later morphed into a wider pro-democracy movement.

Visitors will see timelines, promotional materials and personal stories from both movements, as well as the Beijing version – and local version – of the Goddess of Democracy.

According to the museum, it said the two movements have stood up against the same totalitarian rule, with participants experiencing very similar forms of suppression by the authorities. The museum said it hoped that by linking the large-scale movements, people may learn lessons and continue the efforts to vindicate the June 4th incident and contribute to the anti-extradition law movement.

Inside the June 4th Museum exhibition, which combines the student movement in Beijing in 1989 and the anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong.

The alliance also appealed for public donations at the reopening, saying they had difficulties in sustaining the operations of the organisation and the museum.

“We will persist to use this space to express our determination in seeking and exposing the truth,” Lee said.

Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.