Tensions are rising in Hong Kong before the anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, with police deploying thousands of officers to enforce a ban on group vigils to honour victims.

Catholic churches set to hold June 4 masses to mourn victims of the 1989 killings have been targeted by nearby roadside banners describing them as “evil cults,” while graffiti has appeared around the city calling on people not to forget.

Thousands of police will be deployed across the city, with several media outlets giving the figure of 7,000, to prevent protesters from illegally congregating. Plans to seal off Victoria Park are being considered, local media reported, whilst the organiser’s chair Chow Hang-tung, was detained by police on Friday morning.

Photo: Stand News.

The banners were found hanging on roadside barriers on Thursday morning near seven churches set to host June 4 memorial masses, Stand News reported. They warned against “evil cults,” “doomsday anti-Christ” and violations of the national security law.

“Causing chaos in the name of paying tribute; Splitting religion with hands full of blood,” the banners read. They also contain an image of the pro-democracy former Cardinal Joseph Zen and an icon of a priest with devil horns and tail.

Mr Chan, an executive committee member of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, told HKFP the masses would go ahead as planned without extra security measures.

Photo: Stand News.

“We will conduct lawful religious activities as usual,” Chan said. “[The banners] are quite funny as their wording shows that these people do not really know Catholicism.”

Chan said churches would be able to accommodate about 2,000 people while others could watch live streams.

The Tiananmen Massacre on June 4, 1989 ended months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when the People’s Liberation Army was deployed to crack down on protesters in Beijing.

The annual vigil at Victoria Park on June 4, 2020, to commemorate victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. File Photo: May James/HKFP.

7,000 officers to be deployed

For the second successive year police have cited Covid-19 restrictions to ban a planned candlelight vigil in Victoria Park, an event which attracted tens of thousands between 1990 and 2019. Local media reports on Thursday afternoon cited police sources as saying that over 7,000 officers would be deployed across Hong Kong on June 4.

If necessary, police may invoke the Public Order Ordinance and seal off Victoria Park to prevent any attempts to congregate, Ming Pao reported.

Photo: Stand News.

The Security Bureau warned last week that defiance of the police ban could be punishable by up to five years imprisonment.

The ban ‘speaks volumes’

NGOs Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called on authorities to respect people’s right to pay respects to the Tiananmen victims peacefully.

“Once again, the Hong Kong authorities are using Covid-19 as a pretext to muzzle the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director Yamini Mishra. “People must not be punished for the simple act of lighting a candle in memory of the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown.”

The annual vigil at Victoria Park on June 4, 2020, to commemorate victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. File Photo: May James/HKFP.

Human Rights Watch said Chinese authorities should allow commemoration of the Tiananmen Massacre in Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland and stop censoring discussions about it.

“The ban on Hong Kong’s candlelight vigil speaks volumes about the Chinese government’s human rights record: that 32 years after the Tiananmen Massacre, they have only deepened repression,” said Yaqiu Wang, the group’s China researcher.

Selina Cheng

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.