Authorities in Hong Kong have once more banned a candlelight vigil marking the 1989 Tiananmen massacre that was held once annually over three decades, citing coronavirus pandemic restrictions on public gatherings.
Police said the city remains on “emergency” alert level for COVID-19, saying that allowing people to gather in Victoria Park on June 4 to mourn those killed by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)’s tanks and machine guns could result in a surge in new cases.
Meanwhile, secretary for security John Lee warned that anyone gathering in Victoria Park on June 4 would be breaking the law, and possibly in breach of a draconian national security law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“When the Commissioner of Police has made a decision to ban an activity, then it will become an unauthorized assembly, and it will be illegal to take part,” Lee said.
“Taking part in illegal gatherings can result in a prison sentence of up to five years,” Lee said. “Any attempt to defy the law, whether it be in the form of restrictions on public gatherings or in breach of the national security law, will be dealt with severely.”
The vigil organizers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, had earlier called on the authorities to allow the vigil to go ahead, promising to adhere to strict social distancing measures.
Last month, a Hong Kong court handed down jail terms to jailed democracy activist Joshua Wong and three opposition members of the city’s District Council for attending last year’s vigil, which was socially distanced, but which took place in defiance of a similar ban.
Wong was sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment, while district councilor Lester Shum was jailed for six months. Fellow councilors Tiffany Yuen and Jannelle Leung were each handed four-month sentence.
National security law snuffs out opposition
Several veteran Alliance committee members also recently pleaded guilty to “illegal assembly” charges.
The group has been actively involved with organizing annual vigils marking the June 4, 1989 bloodshed, as well as running a museum dedicated to the mass, student-led democracy movement that saw hundreds of thousands occupy Tiananmen Square in the weeks leading up to the massacre.
It has warned that such charges are increasingly being brought against pro-democracy politicians and peaceful activists in Hong Kong’s courts since the 2019 protest movement.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has presided over a city-wide crackdown on peaceful protest and political opposition since imposing a draconian national security law on Hong Kong from July 1, 2020.
The law, which saw China’s feared state security police set up a headquarters in Hong Kong to oversee “serious” cases, has been widely criticized by governments, rights groups, and lawyers as an assault on Hong Kong’s traditional freedoms of speech, association, and political participation.
In December, 27 opposition politicians and democracy activists were arrested for “subversion” under the law after they held a democratic primary designed to maximize their chances of winning seats in the Legislative Council (LegCo).
The authorities responded by postponing the election and arresting those who took part in the primary.
Macau, a former Portuguese colony and also a semi-autonomous Chinese city granted select freedoms not allowed on the mainland, announced on Wednesday it had banned a vigil marking the Tiananmen crackdown.
Macau, a gambling enclave to Hong Kong’s west, has never experienced the democracy protests that have erupted in Hong Kong over the years.
Reported by Chan Yun Nam for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.