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HK leader skips questions on legality of Tiananmen vigils

The candlelight vigil for the Tiananmen tragedy victims was an annual event in Hong Kong until 2019
A man takes a picture with his phone as others hold candles at a vigil in Hong Kong to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, in 2014
A man takes a picture with his phone as others hold candles at a vigil in Hong Kong to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, in 2014. (Photo: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)
Published: June 01, 2023 11:58 AM GMT
Updated: June 01, 2023 01:07 PM GMT

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing Chief Executive John Lee has declined to comment on the legality of mourning the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre while asking citizens to obey the law.

Lee, a Catholic and former chief of the Hong Kong police force, made the comments during a routine press briefing on May 30, which came days before the Tiananmen anniversary on June 4.

He warned that the police force would take resolute actions if any activity, especially “public order activities,” violate the law, the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported.

“Everybody should act in accordance with the law and think of what they do, so as to be ready to face the consequences,” Lee said.

“Any activity that contradicts the law, of course, the police will have to take action. Police will take action resolutely, particularly in regard to public order activities,” he further added.

Lee’s remarks were in response to questions from media personnel on the legality of Hongkongers publicly and peacefully holding memorials and meetings in remembrance of the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown.

The People’s Liberation Army, through a violent crackdown, had ended the months-long student-led protests in Beijing. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died in the military action.

Before Beijing imposed the National Security Law on Hong Kong in 2020 and the restrictions placed due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2019, the China-administered territory had seen regular candlelight vigils each year.

The vigils held at Causeway Bay’s Victoria Park were banned in 2020 amid Covid-19 restrictions and since then no vigil was held.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China which organized the vigils disbanded in 2021 following the arrests of several of its former leaders.

Leaders of the alliance – Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho, and Chow Hang-tung – have been arrested and charged under the National Security Law for alleged incitement to subversion. They face a 10-year jail term if convicted.

Victoria Park in the Causeway Bay area has been reserved for a carnival organized by 26 pro-Beijing associations from June 3-5 occupying the four football pitches in the park, organizers said.

Tang Ching-ho, the first executive chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Guangdong Community Organizations said that the dates approved by Hong Kong’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department were “coincidental.”

“We often hold these events, and coincidentally our application for this time was approved,” Tang said, HKFP reported.

The organizers stated that similar events had been held in Kowloon and the New Territories before.

Lee is the third top Hong Kong official who declined to give a clear answer on the commemoration of the Tiananmen Vigil in Hong Kong in recent weeks.

Secretary for Security Chris Tang had stated that the authorities would act against people who plan to harm national security on “a special occasion in a few days’ time,” HKFP reported.

Tang did not clarify the details of the “special occasion” and refrained from naming any individuals or groups.

Secretary for Justice Paul Lam had earlier refused to answer similar questions and had termed them as “hypothetical”.

Lam had urged the public “to sustain an awareness of obeying the law, no matter what activities they are involved in.”

Earlier this month, Hong Kong national security police seized the eight-meter-high (26-feet) "Pillar of Shame" by Danish artist Jens Galschiot -- featuring anguished faces in a twisted tower -- sat on the University of Hong Kong's (HKU) campus for more than two decades.

The art installation represented the Tiananmen Massacre and was a popular location for the annual vigil organizers.

It was dismantled in 2021 amid widespread outcry and the pieces have since been stored in a cargo container on an HKU property in Hong Kong's rural Yuen Long district.

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