A Sai Kung shop has been inspected by officers from four different government departments within nine days, after it started to give away candles to commemorate the Tiananmen crackdown.

Sai Kung Store on Friday
Sai Kung Store on Friday. Photo: Mandy Cheng/HKFP.

Owner Debby Chan, also a former Sai Kung district councillor, told HKFP on Friday that her store was visited by personnel from the Hong Kong Police Force, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), the Buildings Department and the Labour Department.

Police visiting Sai Kung Store
Police visiting Sai Kung Store. Photo: Debby Chan.

This Sunday marks the anniversary of the crackdown, with police expected to deploy en masse to prevent gatherings in Causeway Bay, where a traditional candlelit vigil was held for decades before the security law was imposed by Beijing in 2020.

Sai Kung Store on Friday
Sai Kung Store on Friday. Photo: Mandy Cheng/HKFP.

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.

Chan said they started distributing wax candles and electronic candles to visitors last Tuesday. She said that, a day later, she received a call from a Kowloon East Regional Headquarters police officer, asking if she would apply to hold a public event – to which she said “no.”

Sai Kung Store on Friday
Sai Kung Store on Friday. Photo: Mandy Cheng/HKFP.

A day after that, personnel from the Buildings Department visited, asking – without explanation – to see her business registration documents, Chan told HKFP. Later, more staff from the same department visited again, saying that they were responding to reports of building safety problems.

Labour Department
Chan said that the personnel from the Labour Department visited the store on May 30. Photo: Debby Chan.

Last Saturday – two days after the candle giveaway began – Chan said that a neighbour took a picture of environmental hygiene officers photographing her store. Staff from the FEHD visited on Tuesday, claiming there were complaints about bookshelves, and shelves for recycling and item exchange, blocking the pathway outside the store. She removed the items.

Sai Kung Store on Friday
Sai Kung Store on Friday. Photo: Mandy Cheng/HKFP.

According to Chan, Labour Department staff then visited two hours later to check her staff insurance papers as part of a “routine inspection.”

Chan said that two police officers then visited on Thursday citing complaints about the store apparently selling beer to children. They also jotted down the identity card numbers of staff.

Police showing "heart"
A police officer showed a “heart” using his hands. Photo: Debby Chan.

Sai Kung Store, established by Chan in 2021, sells ethical goods and connects people with community events, according to its website.

During HKFP’s visit on Friday, a police car was present on the road outside the store for at least five hours.

Chan supplied a picture that appeared to show an officer displaying a “heart” gesture with his fingers during the afternoon.

‘Putting pressure’

Chan said her initial thought to distribute candles felt like a “weak” action, but she realised it was “useful” after seeing the reaction of the authorities.

“They are now obviously putting pressure on [us], through all the government departments,” she said.” Having followed labour issues for so many years, this is the first time I’ve heard of the Labour Department randomly going to a store for a routine inspection without receiving complaints.”

Sai Kung Store on Friday
Police outside Sai Kung Store on Friday. Photo: Mandy Cheng/HKFP.

She said the candle distribution will continue until Sunday’s anniversary.

Sai Kung Store on Friday
Owner Debby Chan at Sai Kung Store on Friday. Photo: Mandy Cheng/HKFP.

When approached by HKFP, police said they received a report of the store of selling alcohol to minors. Following an investigation, the case was classified as “miscellaneous” and there was no follow up.

Sai Kung Store on Friday
Sai Kung Store on Friday. Photo: Mandy Cheng/HKFP.

A Labour Department (LD) spokesperson told HKFP that “labour inspectors of LD from time to time conduct inspections of establishments in various sectors to safeguard the employment rights and benefits of employees, and check employers’ compliance with the labour legislation.”

Sai Kung Store on Friday
Sai Kung Store on Friday. Photo: Mandy Cheng/HKFP.

The LD added that they check compliance with the Employment Ordinance, Minimum Wage Ordinance, Employees’ Compensation Ordinance, Employment of Young Persons (Industry) Regulations, Employment of Children Regulations, and Part IVB of the Immigration Ordinance.

The FEHD told HKFP they received two complaints in the past month about Sai Kung Store placing objects outside that blocked the pedestrian pathway and caused hygiene issues: “However, during the inspections, we did not find any violations as reported in the complaints,” a spokesperson said.

The Buildings Department told HKFP they inspected the property on May 25 following complaints and found some unauthorised building works, including a signboard and canopy. There was no obvious danger and no immediate enforcement action is required, they said.

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Mandy Cheng is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. Previously, she worked at Ming Pao, focusing on investigative and feature reporting. She also contributed to Cable TV and others.