Hong Kong police have sealed off parts of Victoria Park on the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, citing risks of an unauthorised assembly after the force banned the annual candlelight vigil for the second successive year.
Hundreds of police temporarily closed the central lawn, football pitches and basketball courts in Causeway Bay on Friday afternoon citing section 17 of the Public Order Ordinance.
Blue signs and audio announcements warned people not to gather.
The lockdown came hours before the original starting time of a now-banned rally to remember the victims who died in Beijing’s bloody crackdown on a student-led democracy movement in 1989.
The force said intelligence showed an unauthorised assembly was likely to take place despite the police objection, therefore officers had to bar public access to the park.
Local media reported that some passers-by were stopped and searched by officers.
Police said they had taken into consideration public safety, public order, people’s rights and freedom and serious health risks when deciding to close off parts of the venue.
“Police are aware that some netizens are still inciting participation in such unauthorised assembly,” police said.
“Anyone who knowingly enters or remains in a public place to which access has been closed without permission… is liable to a maximum penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment and a fine [of HK$10,000],” they added.
On Saturday, authorities warned that those convicted of participating in an unauthorised assembly can face up to five years’ imprisonment, while anyone found guilty of advertising an unauthorised assembly is liable to a maximum penalty of 12 months behind bars. They may also breach the Covid-19 gathering restrictions, police warned.
The annual candlelight vigil was organised by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China. Its bid to continue the decades-long tradition was denied by police last Thursday citing the Covid-19 pandemic, as they did last year.
The alliance vice-chairwoman and barrister Chow Hang-tung and a 20-year-old food delivery man were arrested on Friday morning for allegedly publicising an unauthorised assembly on social media.
Additional reporting: Tom Grundy.