Hong Kong police warn Tiananmen anniversary gatherings will break the law

Hong Kong police have warned that people risk breaking the law if they gather on Saturday to commemorate China’s Tiananmen crackdown – particularly in the city’s Victoria Park, the site of a once annual candlelit vigil.

Discussion of the 4 June 1989 crackdown, when the Chinese government set troops and tanks on peaceful protesters, is forbidden in mainland China. For decades Hong Kong exercised its semi-autonomy and freedom of speech to hold an annual candlelit memorial for the victims. But after the national security law was brought in in 2020, that came to an end.

For the last two years authorities have banned gatherings at Victoria Park on the anniversary, citing pandemic restrictions which many said were being misused to silence the vigil. Last year thousands of riot police were put on standby.

This year, Hong Kong police have warned people they risk breaching laws against unlawful assembly and incitement if they try to mark the anniversary on Saturday, regardless of numbers.

“When there are other people there, and you share a common goal to express some appeals, that’s already sufficient to make you a member of an unlawful assembly,” said senior superintendent Liauw Ka-kei on Thursday.

Asked if residents can wear black clothes, bring flowers or candles and appear near the park at all, he said: “If that person makes us feel that his or her purpose of appearance is to incite others, we of course will search for evidence.”

He said police had noticed calls on social media to gather at the park on Saturday, but did not give details.

Liauw also said any person who promoted an unauthorised assembly in Victoria Park, even if they themselves did not show up, will have contravened the law. Gatherings in other locations would receive similar treatment, he added.

Since the security law came into force in 2020, a drive to remove all trace of Tiananmen has swept through the city.

Dozens of lawmakers and activists – including many connected to the vigil – are in jail. The Hong Kong Alliance, the most prominent Tiananmen advocacy group and the vigil organiser, was prosecuted as a “foreign agent” over incitement to subversion. Last September its leaders were arrested, their museum closed after a police raid, and digital records deleted overnight.

Last December Hong Kong University removed its “Pillar of Shame,” a sculpture commemorating the victims of the massacre and which had stood on the site for two decades.

The crackdown has cast a chilling shadow across the remaining pro-democracy advocates, as well as media, the arts, and the legal profession. Many have been targeted by pro-Beijing newspapers, published on lists of accused subversives, while human rights lawyers have been cast as suspicious for representing clients.

This year for the first time, the city’s Catholic Diocese – whose 90-year-old cardinal Joseph Zen is currently in jail awaiting trial on charges of collusion with foreign forces – decided against holding memorial masses because of safety fears.

Liauw said police had not received any application to organise an assembly in the park on 4 June this year but officers would be guarding the area anyway.

Four of six soccer pitches in the park have been booked from early morning all the way to around midnight “by individual citizens for the purpose of playing soccer”, Hong Kong’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department said. The two other pitches have been sealed for “maintenance” since early May.

Asked if lighting a candle on a private balcony was unlawful – a move many have adopted over the past two years in the absence of other options – Liauw said he could not see any law banning that.

With Agence France-Presse

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