Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has again side-stepped reporters’ questions about a police ban on the annual candlelight vigil for victims of the Tiananmen Massacre scheduled for its 32nd anniversary this Friday.
The force last Thursday refused permission for the event organised in Victoria Park by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, citing coronavirus restrictions. The government has warned of possible penalties of up to five years in prison for those attending an unauthorised gathering.
Asked on Tuesday why other public events such as flower and art fairs have been permitted in recent weeks, Lam deferred to the decision by law enforcement.
“Since the protests and the assemblies have been objected to by the police and the applicant has already appealed and the appeal has been dismissed, what we have to do is to act in accordance with the law,” the city’s leader said. “I do not have a second opinion on this matter.”
Lam also refused to comment on the legality of a key slogan associated with the vigil, “End one-party rule” – a reference to the Chinese Communist Party. The city’s national security law imposed by Beijing almost a year bans “subversion” among other offences.
“Concerning the meaning of the slogan, we have to consider in what context the slogan was said and whether it would contravene certain provisions under the law,” she said.
She repeated that Hong Kong had a duty under both the Chinese constitution and the Basic Law to protect the integrity of China’s socialist system and Hong Kong’s capitalist system.
The annual vigil commemorating victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre was held in Victoria Park for three decades until last year, when authorities banned it citing Covid-19 public health concerns. The ban followed months of pro-democracy protests that rocked the city.
The vigil traditionally attracted thousands and was seen by academics as a symbol of freedoms enjoyed in Hong Kong as opposed to mainland China, where references to the massacre are tightly censored.
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.
Lam’s comments come as several pro-Beijing figures have slammed the Alliance’s slogan “End one party rule” as “subversive” and called for it to be banned.
Chinese scholar Tian Feilong, in an op-ed in Sing Tao newspaper on Monday, said the slogan was “incompatible” with safeguarding national security in Hong Kong and called on the Security Bureau to investigate the Alliance.
Hong Kong’s only delegate to China’s National People’s Congress, Tam Yiu-chung, also said on Monday that the slogan demonstrated a “subversive intent” to overthrow the Chinese Communist Party and should be banned.
Speaking to HKFP last week, the Alliance’s vice-chair Chow Hang-tung said calls to ban the slogan were a warning to the organisation, which has been campaigning for a democratic China for over 30 years.
“It’s obviously a warning from the authorities and from the pro-establishment camp… The main issue is whether the government will still allow organisations like us who say one-party dictatorship is wrong to exist,” she said.
Correction 13.20: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Hong Kong police refused to give permission to the vigil last Friday. The ban was issued last Thursday.