Hong Kong authorities warn of 5-year prison term for attending Tiananmen Massacre vigil

Poster on the 32nd anniversary of June 4. Image from HK Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement of China

Following the ban by Hong Kong's police on the annual candlelight vigil held at Victoria Park to commemorate victims of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Security Bureau warned Hongkongers against taking part in this year’s vigil on June 4, or the commemorative long-distance run Sunday, May 30.

It said in a statement issued on May 29:

The relevant meetings and procession are unauthorised assemblies. No one should take part in it, or advertise or publicise it, or else he or she may violate the law.

The bureau warned that under the Public Order Ordinance, offenders will face up to five years in prison for attending, or one year for promoting, the vigil.

The statement also cited Hong Kong National Security Law in listing potential offences:

If anyone attempts to challenge the law, including the Prohibition on Group Gathering, Public Order Ordinance, Hong Kong National Security Law, etc., the Police will deal with it seriously in accordance with the law.

Four pro-democracy activists, including Joshua Wong, were handed four to 10-month jail sentences on May 6 for attending last year’s vigil in Victoria Park. A dozen more pro-democracy activists are still awaiting trial for attending, inciting or organizing the vigil.

Hong Kong had held candlelight vigils to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre for over 30 years—since 1990—until the police banned the event for the first time last year, citing “public health concerns.”

This year, the Hong Kong police also using the COVID-19 pandemic restriction on public gatherings to justify its decision. In a letter issued on May 27 to the event’s organizer, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HK Alliance), the police claimed that the event would threaten public health.

As daily cases of COVID-19 subsided to single digits in May, restrictions on social distancing were relaxed and crowds have emerged in shopping malls and beaches in the past week. This lead HK Alliance to file an appeal to the police objection but this failed and the organizers have to stop all promotion of the vigil:

However, the HK Alliance also stated:

The Alliance firmly believes that Hong Kong people will never forget June 4, and we also ask Hong Kong people to mourn June 4 with perseverance and wisdom, under lawful, safe, peaceful and rational circumstances, in their own way, at the right time and place. May the truth prevail!

Last year, thousands of Hongkongers spontaneously lit candles in more than a dozen public spots, including Victoria Park to commemorate the Tiananmen Massacre, despite the police ban.

It is anticipated similar activities will take place all over Hong Kong. The Catholic Church has stated that it will continue its tradition of hosting a “Mass for the Dead” on June 4 at seven of its churches across Hong Kong.

Whether the police will press charges on such decentralized gatherings will be worth observing:

This year, Hong Kong's ban on the vigil came two days after Macau's, which had explicitly cited national security as a reason for the ban. The former Portuguese colony returned to China under the “One Country Two Systems” policy in 1999, two years after Hong Kong.

The Macau police told the event organizer, Macau Union of Democratic Development, that slogans such as “end one-party rule” or “stop political persecution” would constitute instigating subversion of the existing system, and harm public confidence in the authorities. Last year the Macau police banned the vigil citing pandemic concern, and on June 4 had deployed more than 100 police officers to disperse individuals who attempted to display slogans or light candles in major public spots.

The political “red line” in Hong Kong is on a similar track in following Macau. Prior to the official ban, a number of pro-Beijing public figures in Hong Kong said that the HK Alliance should be deemed illegal under the National Security Law because the organization's mission is to “end one-party rule” and that the annual June 4 vigil would undermine Beijing's authority.

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