Tiananmen Square crackdown
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Thousands turned up at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park for the annual Tiananmen Square candlelight vigil last June despite police rejecting organisers’ application. Photo: Robert Ng

Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen Square vigil banned on health grounds, as officials cite coronavirus pandemic

  • Also banned last year amid coronavirus concerns, the only large-scale commemoration of the 1989 crackdown on Chinese soil still drew a crowd of thousands
  • City leader earlier in the day stopped short of saying event would be banned under national security law, but stressed there should be respect for the ruling Chinese Communist Party

Hong Kong officials on Tuesday night cited health grounds in banning an annual June vigil commemorating the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department, pointing to the Covid-19 pandemic, said the organisers’ application for the use of Victoria Park on June 4 would not be processed.

The statement came hours after the application for a letter of no objection for the planned rally was submitted to police by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.

The candlelight vigil in Victoria Park has been the only large-scale public commemoration of the bloody 1989 crackdown in Beijing held on Chinese soil. But the coming edition, which would mark Tiananmen’s 32nd anniversary, would be the first since Beijing imposed its sweeping national security law on Hong Kong last June.

In a statement, the department said: “In accordance with the latest Covid-19 situation, we have suspended the processing of bookings for our leisure and recreational venues for undesignated uses until further notice. We have also informed the [alliance] of the arrangement.”

Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, secretary of the alliance, said it had not received formal notice from the department, and its members would meet to discuss their next step.

“The Covid-19 situation has shown signs of easing and the government has also reopened many venues to the public. I find this ban on Covid-19 grounds a bit strange,” Tsoi said.

The vigil was also banned by police last year, also because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam meets the press ahead of her Executive Council meeting on Tuesday. Photo: Dickson Lee

There had been questions as to whether the vigil would be allowed under the national security law, with Beijing loyalists and scholars previously warning that the alliance itself had already contravened the legislation, as its manifesto explicitly calls for an “end to the one-party dictatorship”.

Asked about the administration’s view of the vigil’s legality ahead of her weekly Executive Council meeting earlier in the day, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said: “It depends greatly on what is going to happen at the gathering, whether participants fall into offences prohibited by the national security law.”

Lam further stressed that the high degree of autonomy Hong Kong enjoyed under the “one country, two systems” principle was not “comprehensive and absolute”, adding the city must respect the country’s constitution. 

“The constitution clearly spells out that socialism with Chinese characteristics is led by the Chinese Communist Party,” she said.

“[Therefore] with the premise that we should respect the constitution, we should also respect the ruling Chinese Communist Party.”

Whether disrespect for the party constituted a crime, however, would depend on the relevant laws, evidence and actions taken, she added.

Chow Hang-tung, vice-chairwoman of the alliance, said the group would not abandon its call for the “end of one-party dictatorship”, which it had made for 30 years.

“If we are genuinely fighting for democracy, there is no way we would agree with one-party dictatorship,”, she said on Tuesday as she submitted to police the application to hold the June 4 rally.

Chow, a barrister, also said it was impossible for the alliance to have a clear understanding of what was allowed under the national security law and what was forbidden, given what she called the legislation’s moving red line.

“We can only act based on our principles, not on any legal advice,” she said.

Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of Beijing’s semi-official think tank, the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said he believed the alliance would be in violation of the security law if it continued to list an “end to the one-party dictatorship and building a democratic China” among its operational goals.

“You may say it’s in a grey area as these are just slogans, but the alliance has long been helping dissidents on the mainland and these are real actions,” Lau said.

“Under the latest political situation, I would say it is hard to survive.”

Last year, the force banned the annual candlelight vigil for the first time in 30 years, saying that “public assemblies were a high-risk activity” given the coronavirus crisis.
Thousands of residents defied the ban and flooded Victoria Park all the same, with some also lighting candles at small-scale vigils held across the city.

On Monday, pro-establishment newspaper Sing Tao Daily cited sources in suggesting police were likely to turn down the application for a second year in a row on the grounds of the “unstable Covid-19 epidemic situation”.