The Hong Kong government has extended Covid-19 restrictions on gatherings, casting doubts over the annual candlelight vigil that marks China’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters three decades ago in Tiananmen Square.
Hundreds of thousands gather every June 4 in Hong Kong's historic Victoria Park with lighted candles to remember the hundreds killed in the 1989 communist crackdown on the student-led pro-democracy march in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
The Beijing-controlled Hong Kong government on May 19 extended restrictions for another two weeks, at least until June 4, making it hard to organize this year's vigil.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said there were no political considerations in extending the restriction order. Public health was the primary concern as the city-state continues to report new, confirmed infections but their source has not been identified, she said.
However, she said it was unrealistic to relax restrictions unless no new cases are reported for 28 consecutive days.
With restrictions in place, the main organizers of the vigil, Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HKASDM), said it doubted if the gathering of thousands of people could be organized on June 4.
Alliance chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said he had repeatedly requested the Hong Kong government's leisure and cultural services department to discuss the June 4 vigil with police to get necessary permissions.
The department has not processed the application citing "a lack of guidelines" and the police had not discussed the mandatory "no objection certificate" to organize the vigil, Lee told UCA news.
He doubted the government's claim that the decision has no political considerations. Schools and religious gatherings have gradually resumed, approved by the administration. He accused the government of suppressing people's freedom to assemble on the pretext of the epidemic.
Lee said the vigil, which started in 1990, has continued without a break "condemning the Chinese communist massacre. It shows to some extent that 'one country, two systems' still exists, and people in Hong Kong still have freedom."
HKASDM plans to enter Victoria Park on June 4 night to light candles, Lee said.
He said he would urge people in Hong Kong "to light candles anywhere, even in the streets. The authorities can ban our gathering but not the feeling of our hearts."
Chan Lok-shun, a project officer of the Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong, told UCA News that the government could not justify its extension of restrictions in the name of infections.
"Schools have resumed and restrictions on religious gatherings are relaxed. People gather in all these places. How can the government say its restriction on gathering is not politically motivated?" he asked.
He said the government move shows the shrinking space for democratic expression in Hong Kong. "The government is controlling freedom of speech and assembly," she said. "The question is not about stifling the June 4 candlelight vigil. The bigger question is about people's freedom and civil liberties."
The Unionf of Hong Kong Catholic Organizations in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China conducts a Mass and prayers marking June 4 anniversary. Its officials said this year they would webcast the Mass.
They also plan to all parishioners to light candles and recite the usual June 4 prayer for the Tiananmen victims in front of the statue of Our Lady in their parishes on the evening of June 4.