Tiananmen Square crackdown
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Residents sit in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay on June 4 last year. Photo: Sam Tsang

Hong Kong organisers of Tiananmen Square vigil lose final bid to overturn police ban on June 4 event

  • Appeal board points to city’s slow progress in vaccinating residents and possible threats to public order and safety
  • Richard Tsoi of organiser Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China offers apology to residents, urges them to ‘be water’
The organiser of Hong Kong’s annual vigil marking the Tiananmen Square crackdown has lost its final challenge to overturn a police ban of the event over Covid-19 risks.
In upholding the force’s decision, an appeal board on Saturday pointed to the city’s slow progress in vaccinating residents and the uncertain pandemic situation in neighbouring regions. Under current social-distancing rules, gatherings of more than four people in public are banned.

The review also found staging the event, as well as a march planned for Sunday, could pose threats to public order and safety.

The decision means the popular June 4 candlelight vigil in Victoria Park, attended by tens of thousands of residents in the past, will not take place for a second straight year. Authorities denied permission last time citing fears that large crowds might worsen the spread of the coronavirus.

The secretary of the organising group, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, expressed disappointment over the outcome of the review.

Richard Tsoi, secretary of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

“We apologise to the public that we cannot organise the vigil at Victoria Park this year,” Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong said. “But we believe that Hongkongers will not forget about [the crackdown].”

The event is the only large-scale public gathering on Chinese soil to remember the 1989 crackdown when the military ordered soldiers to open fire on student protesters and civilians who had gathered at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to demand greater political freedom. Reports have suggested that hundreds were killed, possibly more.

After Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong on June 30 that bans acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, concerns have grown that organisers of the vigil, as well as participants, could be committing an offence.

What the Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 4, 1989 was about

Tsoi, who was on Friday handed a 14-month suspended sentence for his role in an unauthorised rally on National Day in 2019 that turned violent, said he would not be going to the park on June 4 this year. No alliance members would be there representing the organisation, he added.

“We have faced unprecedented suppression in organising the vigil this year. It’s hard to assess the political and legal risk,” he said.

Tsoi advised any residents who wanted to commemorate the event to “be water” – a phrase first made famous by martial arts legend Bruce Lee to describe adapting to circumstances and which became a mantra during the 2019 social unrest. The June 4 museum, located in Mong Kok, was set to reopen on Sunday and people could mourn the Tiananmen deaths by visiting the venue, he added.

Alliance vice-chairwoman Chow Hang-tung wrote on her Facebook page she would go to an unidentified place on June 4 to commemorate the crackdown.

“At 8am on June 4, I will in my personal capacity keep this promise that I have been keeping for 32 years, to light a candle at a place where everyone can see,” she said.

Speaking after the review meeting, Senior Superintendent Liauw Ka-kei repeated police warnings for residents to avoid any unauthorised assemblies that day.

“The police will definitely not tolerate any illegal actions,” he said. “We will take actions decisively.”

Tiananmen vigil organisers accuse officials of using pandemic as excuse to ban June 4 event

The Security Bureau also warned people not to take part in the vigil or publicise it, or else they may be found in breach of the law. The police would also deal with any attempts to challenge the national security law, it added.

Taking part in an unauthorised assembly can result in a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment. Advertising or publicising an illegal rally carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail.

“The court’s recent judgments in two cases relating to unauthorised assemblies indicate that taking part in an unauthorised assembly, whether or not it involves violence, is in violation of the law. The persons concerned were eventually sentenced to imprisonment of varying terms,” it said.

Despite the ban last year, an estimated 20,000 people turned out at Victoria Park. Authorities arrested and charged 26 leading opposition figures, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung, for their involvement.

Wong and three district councillors pleaded guilty last month to knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly.

The alliance reported that more than 180,000 people attended the vigil in 2019, while police placed the number at 37,000.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: June 4 vigil organisers lose bid to repeal ban