Organisers of Hong Kong’s banned Tiananmen Massacre vigil have said it would be “unreasonable” to arrest people based on their clothing. It follows local media reports that people wearing black, holding candles or chanting slogans near Victoria Park this Friday may be arrested for participating in an unauthorised assembly.
“It’s not reasonable at all,” the group’s vice-chair Chow Hang-tung told HKFP on Wednesday. “[People] should be able to wear what they want… or to hold a candle on the streets – that can’t be illegal.”
“These things should not be against the law just because we made an application for an assembly,” Chow continued.
Over 1,000 anti-riot officers will be deployed to patrol the area around Victoria Park on Friday, the reports suggest. Police presence across the city will also be strengthened, despite the long history of peaceful gatherings on the anniversary.
Black-clad people found in the vicinity of Victoria Park risk being charged with participating in an unauthorised assembly, while other vigils held around the city may violate the four-person limit on social gatherings during Covid-19, reports said. Officers may also make video recordings in the area and take action at a later date.
HKFP has contacted the police for comment.
The reports on Tuesday came after police objected to the vigil for the second year in a row, citing public health concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic. Authorities have warned of penalties of up to five years in prison for participating in an unlawful assembly and a one year sentence for inciting others to do so.
The city’s leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday sidestepped questions over why this Friday’s vigil had been banned while other public events such as an annual arts fair have been allowed to take place in recent weeks. City health officials announced the official end of the city’s fourth wave of Covid-19 infections on Monday.
The annual candlelight vigil, traditionally organised by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was allowed to take place at Victoria Park for three decades until last year, when authorities banned it citing public health concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic. 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.
Pro-Beijing voices have called for the Security Bureau to investigate the Alliance and to ban its slogan “End one-party rule” for being “subversive” of the Chinese Communist regime. Beijing’s national security law criminalises “subversion” with up to life imprisonment.
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.
The ban and threats of arrest come as the city approaches the one-year anniversary of the Beijing-imposed national security law at the end of this month. Rights groups and foreign governments have accused Hong Kong authorities of using the law to gag all political dissent in the city, while local authorities assert the law is necessary to restore social order.
The Alliance has said they will not turn up in the name of the organisation at Victoria Park this Friday, after their appeal against the police objection to the gathering was dismissed over the weekend.
The group has nonetheless called on the public to remember victims of the massacre by whatever lawful means remain available. When asked whether she will go to Victoria Park this week, Chow told HKFP she will definitely be “visible” on Friday. She has said she will light a candle in her personal capacity at 8pm to commemorate the victims of the massacre.
Materials originally prepared for the vigil will be posted online.
Seven churches across the city have planned to hold services at 8 pm on Friday to commemorate the massacre. A representative from the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese told HKFP on Wednesday that the services will continue as planned.
Fears of a clampdown on remembering the Tiananmen Massacre in Hong Kong come as memorials are set to be held worldwide, with vigils planned in the UK, Australia, Canada, and an online vigil in Taiwan.