A young man protects the flickering flame of his candle during the Tiananmen vigil in Victoria Park in Hong Kong, China, on June 4, 2020. Photo: Marc Fernandes/NurPhoto via AFP

HONG KONG – Whether the annual June 4 candlelight vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen massacre in China can be held in Hong Kong remained unclear on Tuesday as police continued to question the organizers about their social distancing arrangements.

Representatives of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China said Tuesday after a meeting with police that they were asked about how they planned to comply with Covid-19 regulations at the planned Victoria Park vigil as well as during a march on May 30.

The alliance called on police not to use the pandemic as an excuse to block the memorial, as happened last year. It said the virus situation was stable and expected some 60,000 people to attend the ceremony.

“We cannot predict what the police decision will be,” the alliance’s Lo Wai-ming said after the meeting. “We are taking all kinds of measures to safeguard Hong Kong people’s rights to mourn the June 4 massacre in a lawful and safe manner,” he said.

Lo said officers asked about the alliance’s past activities and its five goals, which include ending one-party dictatorship, but they didn’t mention the new National Security Law.

On Tuesday, the Center for Health Protection said two Covid cases with unclear sources were identified. These involved a 43-year-old Pakistani construction worker and a 37-year-old Filipino domestic worker. 

The construction worker lived in Shek Wah House of Shek Lei Estate in Kwai Chung, and worked at a site for the Tseung Kwan O-Lam Tin Tunnel. The domestic worker lived with her employer in Tai Tung Wo Liu Village in Sai Kung.

Unauthorized assembly

Last year, police banned the June 4 vigil for the first time in 31 years for public health reasons. Tens of thousands of people defied the ban and gathered in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay.

A general view of the crowd in Victoria park during a protest in Hong Kong, China, on June 4, 2020. Photo: AFP via NurPhoto / Marc Fernandes

It was rare for police not to take action that evening. Almost all protests have been banned or subject to a police crackdown since Hong Kong was hit by the coronavirus in February 2020.

A week later, a dozen pro-democracy activists who showed up at the event were arrested and accused of inciting others to knowingly take part in an unauthorized assembly. They included Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai and the Alliance’s chairman Lee Cheuk-yan.

Some others including activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung and district councilor Lester Shum were also arrested for knowingly participating in an unauthorized assembly.

A total of 26 people have so far been arrested. Two of them, including former lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung, were wanted by police after they left Hong Kong. On May 6 this year, Wong, Shum and two other district councilors were jailed for between four and 10 months for showing up at last year’s vigil.

National Security Law

Over the past two months, pro-Beijing newspapers and groups have called for a ban of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China on claims it has violated the new National Security Law by calling for an end to one-party rule in China.

On April 27, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the freedoms people enjoy under the Basic Law are not absolute. She said people should respect the Chinese constitution and the ruling Communist Party.

She added that it depended on the evidence whether anyone would violate the National Security Law for promoting “ending one-party rule.”

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks at a press conference on December 23, 2020. Photo: AFP / Issac Lawrence

On the same day, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said the Alliance’s application to use Victoria Park to mark the Tiananmen massacre would not be processed due to anti-epidemic reasons.

Members of the New Millenarian, a pro-Beijing group, rallied on May 19 to call on the National Security Bureau to outlaw the Alliance. Prior to this, the group protested against the Apple Daily and the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), which organized the July 1 March.

Last month, the police accused the CHRF of violating the Societies Ordinance as it did not register itself with the force.

Political commentator Chung Kim-wah said it should not be a crime for people to call on the authorities to respect human rights, but unfortunately no one knows where the red lines are. Chung said the police move against the CHRF was clearly part of Beijing’s ongoing purge of pro-democracy groups in the territory.

In Hong Kong, organizers must get a letter of no objection from police before they can start a rally.

Since late 2019, the force has become reluctant to issue the letter, complaining that many authorized rallies have turned violent. The Alliance said if this year’s June 4 vigil was banned again, people could take a picture of their candles and upload it to social media at 8 pm with a hashtag “#6432Justice,” which refers to the 32th anniversary of the June 4 massacre, on that day.

A popular YouTuber has also suggested that people in Hong Kong, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia join an online memorial on June 4.

Freedom of the press

A file photo of RTHK’s office in Hong Kong. Image: Facebook

RTHK, a government-owned broadcaster, said on Monday that its management would investigate why an episode of its TV program, Legco Review, aired last Friday with footage of the candlelight vigil’s organizers taking part in a run.

A RTHK spokesman said the producers had not sought permission from the editorial committee to add the footage to the end of the episode. He said the footage did not have anything to do with Legco or issues discussed in the program. He also said RTHK has hired an outside team to take over production of the program.

Hong Kong Journalists Association chief Chris Yeung said RTHK’s management is merely looking for an excuse to get rid of the in-house production team. Yeung said the decision to drop the team would cause anxiety among the station’s staff and damage their trust in the station’s management.

Read: HK activists will defy Tiananmen vigil ban