Hong Kong has held its annual vigil commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre every year since the 1989 crackdown. As the threat of the COVID-19 continues to loom over the city, this might be the first time in 30 years the memorial will be canceled—but some say it’s politics at play.
Health authorities said yesterday that the ban on gatherings larger than eight people will be extended to June 4, the date of the anniversary. The decision has prompted some to accuse the government of using public health measures to clamp down on political activities.
“It’s very clear that the whole decision was a political consideration,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, the chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which organizes the annual vigils. “We are very worried that we will not be able to have the candlelight vigil this year.”
The organization has already applied for a permit to hold the gathering, which attracts tens of thousands every year, but has not received a response from the police. The Plan B, Lee said, will be to hold several small gatherings in different districts across the city.
Authorities deny that the extension of the public health measures was intended to prohibit political gatherings.
“All of our considerations are risk-based, and this is the main consideration,” Sophia Chan, the Secretary of Food and Health, said in a Tuesday press conference. “There are no other considerations, apart from public health considerations.”
The coming anniversary marks 31 years since the Tiananmen massacre. The bloody crackdown on June 4, 1989 put an end to months of student-led demonstrations in Beijing calling for democracy in the Communist state. According to reports, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) sent troops and tanks into the crowded city square during a demonstration, killing what is estimated to be hundreds or even several thousand protestors.
The massacre is one of the most censored topics on Chinese social media, which is said to reinforce its firewall and remove thousands of posts and videos referencing the incident every year in the lead up to the anniversary. State media like Xinhua and People’s Daily do not mention the sensitive date.
Hong Kong and Macau are the only Chinese territories where people can openly commemorate the tragedy. Last year, the massacre’s 30th anniversary, the vigil drew 180,000 people, according to the organizer’s count.
Lee said the group will push for the vigil to be held as normal. Even if authorities ban the gathering, he adds, “You cannot ban people’s hearts. You cannot ban Hong Kong people’s determination to mourn,” he added.