District councillors in Hong Kong have been warned that they could face arrest if they carry out activities deemed to be “promoting unauthorised assemblies” as large numbers of police sealed off the venue for a banned candlelight vigil to mark the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

june 4 victoria park 2021 police
Victoria Park. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Officials from the Home Affairs Department (HAD) said they had issued letters to district councillors accused of promoting unauthorised assemblies after some pro-democracy councillors set up street booths to hand out candles for the public to commemorate victims of the massacre.

“The HAD received complaints stating that some district council (DC) members conducted activities which are unrelated to DC duties, damaging to community harmony and possibly in breach of the laws of Hong Kong,” the HAD statement read.

DP candle booth
A street booth set up by district councillor Ramon Yuen in his personal capacity to distribute candles ahead of the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre. Photo: Democratic Party, via Facebook.

“These activities include, but are not limited to, distributing materials and conducting publicity to encourage and facilitate members of the public to participate in unauthorised public assemblies.”

The department said that district councillors should not use their allowances or the offices for purposes irrelevant to the businesses of district councils. HAD added that “all expenses not complying with the Remuneration Guidelines or for discharging duties unrelated to the District Council will not be reimbursed.”

For the second successive year, Hong Kong police 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, citing Covid-19 concerns.

The police also arrested Chow Hang-tung, vice-chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, on Friday morning for allegedly publicising the banned assembly.

Some Democratic Party district councillors were among those setting up street booths ahead of the 32nd anniversary of the massacre.

Sham Shui Po District Councillor Ramon Yuen, who set up a booth on Thursday, told HKFP that he did not receive any notification from the HAD.

“I have accessed what I have done, it’s not illegal, and I didn’t use any resources of my office, I used my own capacity to distribute (candles),” said Yuen, adding that he would set up another booth on Friday depending on the weather.

Ramon Yuen candle
Ramon Yuen distributing candles on June 3, 2021. Photo: Democratic Party, via Facebook.

The district councillor also said that some people were hesitant to take a candle. The Hong Kong government has refused to clarify whether participating in vigils or commemorating victims of the massacre were in violation of the Beijing-imposed national security law.

“I distributed around 200 candles yesterday, similar to my expectations,” said Yuen. “I can feel that some citizens were worried, but a lot of people were still persisting.”

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.

HKFP has reached out to the Home Affairs Department for comment.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.