People attend a candle vigil for the victims to commemorate the 30th anniversary of a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in 1989 at Victoria Park in Hong Kong on June 4, 2019. Photo: AFP/The Yomiuri Shimbun

Hong Kong activists will hold a Tiananmen candlelight vigil in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay on Thursday (June 4) evening, despite the annually held event being banned by police for the first time in three decades. 

“We have not given up. We are going to Victoria Park,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, the chairman of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China. “But what we are doing now is that we will not focus on one point in Victoria Park.”

Lee said people are welcome to join them at the venue to mark the 1989 Chinese massacre as they plan to go there in small groups. He said the alliance will ask people to commemorate the event across Hong Kong, with plans to set up about 100 street booths. He said he hopes the event will “blossom everywhere” in the city.  

“We still want to show the world and the people of Hong Kong that we are persistent in lighting a candle inside Victoria Park. So we will still do that,” he said. The event will also be broadcast live on the internet, he added. 

The annual event has taken place in Victoria Park for 30 consecutive years since the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, when protestors were fatally shot and killed by Chinese troops.

Hong Kong police officially announced the ban due to public health concerns, citing coronavirus restrictions that prohibit groups of more than eight people gathering at any public place.

Recent protests were also banned and categorized as “illegal assemblies” on social distancing grounds. Police have started their patrols near protest sites several hours before events are scheduled and intercepted people in areas, often asking to check their ID cards.

Police have detained people who have chanted anti-China slogans or sang songs. When protesters recently occupied roads, police took action immediately, using pepper spray, tear gas and pepper balls to disperse crowds.

Many in Hong Kong are concerned that the June 4 vigil, which in recent years has drawn over 100,000 people, will not be held in future as the National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee aims to pass a new uncertain national security law in either late June or August.

The law, which will criminalize treason, subversion, foreign intervention and terrorism, will reportedly cover not only “behavior” but also “activities,” fueling concerns it could be written to curb freedom of speech and assembly.

Maria Tam, deputy director of the Basic Law Committee, was asked on a recent radio program whether the new law would prohibit calls for an end to “one-party dictatorship,” one of the five demands stated in the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China’s manifesto. 

Tam said there is no such “dictatorship” because the mainland has multiple political parties. However, she said if people shout such slogans at future rallies or marches in Hong Kong, other participants should leave as a precaution.

On Wednesday (June 3) evening, in a potential flashpoint, a group of artists planned to play out a drama about the Tiananmen Square Massacre and broadcast it online.  

To be sure, opinions in Hong Kong on Tiananmen are split. According to a survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, about 59% of 1,001 interviewed respondents said they supported vindication for the June 4, 1989 incident, while 23% of people opposed it.

About 43% felt that China’s current human rights situation is worse now than in 1989, while 38% held an opposite view

Robert Chung Ting-yiu, who helped compile the survey, said it was unclear whether such public opinion surveys would be banned under the impending new national security law.

Events in Hong Kong are being closely watched in the United States, which has threatened to remove the city’s special status over China’s security laws. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this week that the US is considering to welcome people from Hong Kong to the US in response to the law, details of which have not yet been revealed.  

America’s top diplomat tweeted on Monday that Hong Kong authorities denied permission for organizers to hold the June 4 vigil because Beijing aimed to deny Hong Kong’s people a voice and a choice and make them the same as mainlanders.

On Wednesday, Pompeo will meet high profile participants in the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, including now Taiwan-based Wang Dan, who was one of the student leaders at that time. Wang said he will talk to the media after the meeting. 

Meanwhile, AFP reported that European Union spokeswoman Virginie Battu-Henriksson said the Tiananmen commemorations in Hong Kong – the only such event permitted on Chinese soil – were a “strong signal that key freedoms continue to be protected.”

“We note the restrictions that have been put in place this year in both Hong Kong and Macau on health grounds,” she told reporters in Brussels. “We trust that the people of Hong Kong and Macau will nevertheless be free to mark the anniversary appropriately. 

“A clear commitment to fully respecting guaranteed rights and freedoms is now more important than ever in light of recent developments.”

She said the EU continues to mourn and demand justice for those killed when China sent tanks and troops to crush student protesters demanding reforms on June 4, 1989.