For the second successive year, Hong Kong police have officially banned an annual candlelight vigil which had been held for three decades in Victoria Park to commemorate victims of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.

tiananmen massacre vigil 31st 2020 june 4 victoria park
File Photo: Studio Incendo.

Organisers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, announced on Thursday that it received two letters of objection from the police, with one banning a march set for May 30 and the second banning the annual June 4 vigil.

Police cited the 4-person group gathering ban in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The organiser also received an email from the Chief Secretary’s office rejecting its request for an exemption to Covid-19 restrictions: “Although coronavirus cases involving the mutant strain have not led to a community outbreak in Hong Kong, we must remain vigilant as neighbouring regions have seen a rebound in cases,” the email read.

“[T]he Government is unable to establish that the proposed organisation of the procession and the gathering would meet the [social distancing] conditions.”

The Alliance said it will appeal the police decision in accordance with the Public Order Ordinance.

“Mourning June 4 is Hongkongers’ collective memory over the past 31 years. The Alliance will continue to fight for people’s right to mourn June 4 legally,” their statement read.

Chow Hang-tung
Chow Hang-tung. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Last week, Hong Kong Alliance’s vice-chair Chow Hang-tung told HKFP that – if police were to ban the annual vigil – the group would “still organise some sort of vigil to commemorate June 4.”

“You can go down to the street and light a candle – that cannot be in any way against the law,” she said. “We are asking Hong Kong people to light a candle at 8 pm, wherever you are. It’s a different way of organising.”

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), which manages Victoria Park, had already effectively banned the vigil. It said in April that it had suspended processing applications from all organisations for the leasing of its facilities, due to Covid-19 concerns.

candle tiananmen vigil june 4 victoria park 2020
Crowds defied the police ban in 2020. File Photo: Kaiser/United Social Press.

Hong Kong government officials had hedged over the past month when asked whether the vigil could go ahead. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said it would depend on whether the vigil breaches the national security law, while Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said “everything that’s illegal is illegal” when asked by reporters if the vigil would be criminalised.

Banned vigil

The Tiananmen Massacre ended months of student-led demonstrations for democracy in China. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died when the People’s Liberation Army was deployed to crack down on protesters in Beijing.

The candlelight vigil at Victoria Park once attracted tens of thousands, a major event staged on Chinese soil to remember those killed when the pro-democracy protest was crushed. It was banned last year for the first time in 30 years, with authorities citing pandemic concerns. Thousands showed up anyway 

candle tiananmen vigil june 4 victoria park 2020
File Photo: Tam Ming Keung/United Social Press.

A total of 24 pro-democracy figures were charged with participating in and inciting others to participate in the unauthorised assembly after defying the police ban on the vigil. Four of them including Joshua Wong were handed jail terms after pleading guilty in early May, while others are awaiting sentencing.

The sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing last June 30, along with coronavirus restrictions, has virtually halted protests in Hong Kong after months of demonstrations and civic unrest in 2019.

Last week, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the return of large-scale arts events showed “Hong Kong’s gradual return to normality.” Meanwhile, a music festival is set to take place in mid-June at the government’s West Kowloon Cultural District.

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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.