Macau authorities have banned the city’s annual Tiananmen Massacre vigil for a second time, on the grounds that the event’s purpose and slogans would violate a series of local criminal laws, including instigating subversion and defamation.

The Macau Union of Democratic Development, the event’s organiser, said it will appeal the police decision in the courts.

macau 2020 annual tiananmen massacre vigil june 4
On June 4, 2020, Macau police dispersed crowd who remain at Senado where annual Tiananmen vigil takes place annually. File Photo: Chan Sai-mei, Choi Chi-chio/United Social Press.

Macau democratically elected lawmakers Antonio Ng and Au Kam-san announced the police ban on their Facebook pages on Wednesday.

Slogans displayed at past photo exhibitions – an annual sister event to Macau’s June 4 vigil – indicated that this year’s vigil would run afoul of the penal code, a 12-page police document read.

Slogans such as “end one-party rule” or “stop political persecution” would constitute instigating subversion of the existing system, harm public confidence in the authorities, and commit defamation, the said. Meanwhile, crowds drawn by the event would also cause risks in lights of the city’s Covid-19 epidemic.

Macau's June 4 vigil in 2009
Macau’s June 4 vigil in 2009. Photo: Vincent Chan via Wikipedia.

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.

Residents in Hong Kong and Macau traditionally held mass vigils to commemorate victims of the event, but authorities have banned them since 2019, citing social distancing concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Appeal to the court

Macau has not recorded any local Covid-19 cases in over a year since the pandemic started.

“The police cited laws that have been enacted since 1995. These laws have not changed in 30 years,” Au, chairman of the Macau Union of Democratic Development, told HKFP.

“For 30 years it was never illegal, and suddenly [they] said it’s illegal,” he said. The union will appeal against the police’s decision in the Court of Final Appeal.

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

“I don’t know whether the court will make a fair decision. If it’s a political issue, the court may not be able to handle it fairly,” he said.

The event will, instead, move to the Union’s private indoor space this year. Organisers expect a turn out of less than 10, as opposed to about 300 people during vigils held outdoors.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.