Democrats have warned of further government censorship after the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) terminated the contract for Lunar New Year flower booths run by a pro-democracy group to commemorate the victims of the Tiananmen massacre over the weekend.

The move marked the first time booths run by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China have been shut down at the Victoria Park market. The group is best known for organising vigils every June 4 in the park to mark the 1989 crackdown in Beijing.

Hong Kong Alliance’s barricaded booths with a banner demanding justice for June 4 victims. Photo: Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China via Facebook.

“If they are going to ban these booths that we have been running for… 32 years, it means there’s nothing they won’t do,” chairman Lee Cheuk-yan told CitizenNews.

“It’s very clear the SAR government will do whatever it takes to please the Chinese Communist Party, including shutting down flower stalls,” the ex-lawmaker said.

He added that he feared the Alliance will no longer be allowed to run Lunar New Year flower booths: “Let’s be honest, our intention was never to really sell flowers, but to spread our message.”

Photo: Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China via Facebook.

FEHD officers had taped a letter to the fair’s booth in Victoria Park informing the Alliance of the termination of its contract on Friday evening, citing “the display of irrelevant objects.”

The booths displayed banners demanding justice for the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Small statues of the Lady of Liberty, a symbol of the city’s pro-democracy movement, were also on display.

FEHD officers later installed metal barricades and tape in the early hours of Saturday before the fair opened to block public access to the booths. The leading FEHD officer told organisers they were simply following orders.

Alliance members remained at their booths for less than an hour after the fair opened before heeding FEHD officers’ orders to leave. Before they left, Lee vowed to continue the Alliance’s annual June 4 vigil. The vigil, also held annually at Victoria Park, was officially banned for the first time last year, with authorities citing pandemic concerns, but commemorations went ahead anyway.

Richard Tsoi, the Alliance’s vice-chairman, told local media that the officers on Saturday had not explained the department’s reasons for terminating their contract. The group called the department’s decision “unreasonable” in a Facebook post.

File photo: Studio Incendo.

The Alliance had successfully bid for three booths despite running into additional procedural hurdles last November. Since 1989, the group had held annual flower booths at the public Lunar New Year fair at Victoria Park to commemorate the victims of the massacre.

The Tiananmen massacre occurred on June 4, 1989 ending months of student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died when the People’s Liberation Army was deployed to crack down on protesters in Beijing.

Separately, members of the League of Social Democrats continued their pro-democracy campaigns during the Lunar New Year festivities on Sunday. At a booth in Causeway Bay, the group raised donations for the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which aids protesters arrested during the 2019 pro-democracy demonstrations.

The FEHD told HKFP in a statement that its officers found “multiple banners” and “backdrops” considered to be irrelevant to the products allowed under the terms of the licence agreement.

“The setup of the points of sale of New Year flowers is to provide a place for selling New Year flowers. The Licence Agreement signed between the FEHD and the licensee has clearly stated that the licensed area could solely be used for selling and promoting flowers,” the statement read. “The licensee should not use the licensed area for any other activities.”

It added that it terminated the Alliance’s contract after the licensee refused to comply with its warning to remove all irrelevant items from the stalls.

Update 09.02.21: This article was updated to include a response from the FEHD.

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Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.