Hong Kong’s leader has refused to comment on reports that authorities will crack down on the city’s annual candlelight vigil for victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, adding that it was “impossible” for her to comment on the legality of the gathering.

On Tuesday, citing sources, the news outlet HK01 reported that members of the public who attend the vigil on June 4 at Victoria Park this year risk arrest, while would-be politicians who attend will be considered “unpatriotic” and barred from running for political posts.

candle tiananmen vigil june 4 victoria park 2020
Photo: Sam Lee/United Social Press.

Responding to the reports, Carrie Lam said: “They are speculative reports. The Chief Executive does not wish to comment on speculative reports.”

She also declined to confirm whether the vigil was in breach of Beijing’s national security law: “Concerning public assembly, we have an established mechanism to decide whether it is legal or illegal or whether it is authorised, I cannot simply comment on a scenario to say whether it is allowed or not,” Lam told a weekly press conference.

“Many a time, media friends ask me to comment on whether something is legal or not… this is asking me to do the impossible,” she added, saying the ultimate decision will be made by the courts.

The annual vigil for Tiananmen victims at Victoria Park traditionally attracts thousands of mourners and is widely considered to be symbolic of freedoms enjoyed by Hongkongers as opposed to those in mainland China, where references to the massacre are heavily censored.

Carrie Lam
Photo: GovHK Screenshot.

Last year, 26 pro-democracy figures were charged over the vigil, after tens of thousands showed up to attend in defiance of authorities’ decision to ban the vigil for the first time in more than three decades. Four of the group have since been sentenced up to ten months in prison, while others still await sentencing.

The vigil has been effectively banned again this year, on the 32nd anniversary of the massacre, after the government’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department stopped processing applications for non-designated use of its premises, citing public health concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The police force has yet to formally make a decision on the gathering. Organisers are expected to meet the force to discuss arrangements on Thursday, according to Ming Pao.

The Tiananmen Massacre occurred on June 4, 1989 ending months of student-led 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.

‘Light a candle wherever you are’

The move to ban the vigil comes amid increasing fears from civil rights groups that Beijing is moving to erase memory of the massacre in Hong Kong. The city’s dedicated June 4 museum was temporarily closed until further notice last Saturday.

Vigil organisers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China have pivoted to other ways of remembering Tiananmen victims.

Over the weekend, four Alliance members participated in a “fun run” on Hong Kong island in commemoration of the vigil in keeping with current social distancing measures. Around 30 police officers were present during the event, according to Ming Pao reports.

Last week, the group called on Hongkongers to “light a candle wherever you are” across the city at 8 p.m. on June 4.

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.