No Candlelight Vigil for June 4th in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park

No Candlelight Vigil for June 4th in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park
(top) Hong Kong police officers "occupy" Victoria Park in the afternoon of June 4, 2021, to prevent people from entering; (bottom) the June 4 candlelight vigil in Victoria Park in 2017. (The Epoch Times)
Kathleen Li

This year marks the 33rd anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Square massacre. For the first time, there is no June 4 candlelight vigil in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park.

By 11 p.m. on the evening of June 3, the government closed the central lawn, soccer field, basketball court, and many entrances to Victoria Park. It was believed the venue might be used for so-called illegal activities. A large number of police officers wearing stab-proof undershirts and neck guards were deployed in the vicinity of Victoria Park and Causeway Bay from noon onwards to stop and check people.

Prior to China cracking down on Hong Kong’s freedom in 2019, this city was the only place the Chinese could publicly mourn the pro-democracy activists who died on June 4. For this reason, Hong Kong’s residents have always felt it was their responsibility to speak out on behalf of those who gave their lives. But for the past two years, the Hong Kong government has rejected the application to hold the traditional rally in Victoria Park, claiming a crowd would escalate the spread of COVID-19.

Traditionally, thousands of Hongkongers would gather in Victoria Park on June 4 to light candles in memory of those who died in Tiananmen Square. But this year Hong Kong’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) has suspended the application for the June 4 memorial service on the pretext of the epidemic.  This is despite how positive cases of the virus have declined.

Amnesty International says it has no doubt the LCSD acted on behalf of the Hong Kong government to suppress people’s desire to commemorate the June 4 memorial. But although the event is blocked from happening again this year, Amnesty International says people from 20 cities around the world will continue to act in solidarity with the Hongkongers by holding their own candlelight vigils. A few of those cities include San Francisco, Washington, Seoul, Taipei, Ulaanbaatar, Sydney, Oslo, Paris, Amsterdam, and London.

“The atrocities of 4 June 1989 must never be forgotten,” said Hana Young, Amnesty International’s East Asia Deputy Regional Director.

As the clock ticks down to June 4 this year, Hongkongers are hoping they will be permitted to rent Victoria Park for the annual memorial. However, their hopes were somewhat dashed when Ming Pao reported that an LCSD staff member in charge of renting the park said it could not be rented for the entire day on June 4, but there were no restrictions on other days in June. The LCSD further stated that due to the epidemic it had suspended the processing of rental applications for its recreation and sports venues for “non-specified activities.” But only for soccer games would rental applications be processed.
Not surprisingly, all six of Victoria Park’s soccer pitches had been booked for soccer games on June 4. The LCSD has not responded to when the fields would be open for public booking.

June 4 in Hong Kong Is High-risk

Since China imposed its National Security Law in 2020, many of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists have been arrested, jailed, or left the city. And the group hosting the June 4 memorial, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HKASPDMC), was disbanded in September 2021, citing the national security law. So far, no other entity in Hong Kong has publicly claimed responsibility for organizing the annual memorial.
Ng Man-yuen, the former chairman of the League of Social Democrats (LSD), told Radio Free Asia there is no official plan to organize the June 4 memorial. Considering how the Hong Kong government had previously suppressed the event, Ng said he would not be surprised if they do not approve people’s applications to hold June 4 rallies this year. By doing this, he said the government is hoping people would eventually forget the June 4 memorial, but this is unlikely to happen.
After Cardinal Joseph Zen was arrested and later released for practicing his faith, the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong decided not to hold its usual mass for the June 4 memorial. Church authorities feared if they proceeded with the mass, another arrest might occur for violating the National Security Law, or some of the staff and members could be harmed.
In an interview with the Epoch Times, Professor Chung Kim-wah, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Hong Kong Institute of Public Opinion Research, said assemblies, demonstrations, and marches had always been allowed under the Basic Law of Hong Kong. Now the Hong Kong government is “relying on scaremongering” and arbitrarily accusing social activists of violating the National Security Law, so no one is willing to organize the June 4 activities.

After the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement in 2019, known as the 2019 Hong Kong protests, the police issued a “Notice of Objection” to the HKASPDMC’s application to organize the 2020 June 4 memorial. The police claimed this was to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and they placed iron horses around the fields in Victoria Park to prevent people from entering.

But despite this precaution, thousands of people still entered the park, held their candlelight vigil, then left peacefully without police interference. Later however, authorities charged 26 individuals who attended the vigil with unauthorized assembly. Four of them, Huang Zhi Feng, Aohui Sham, Yuan Jiawei, and Leung Hoi Ching were sentenced to 4 to 10 months in prison respectively.

In anticipation of the 2021 memorial, the police cordoned off Victoria Park, stationed guards around the perimeter, and even stepped up their presence in Causeway Bay. This failed to prevent thousands of people from lighting candles or turning on their cell phone lights throughout the territory on the night of June 4 that year. The police arrested and charged many people that evening for “inciting others to participate in unauthorized gatherings” and violating the “gathering restriction.”

Lam Siu-bun, a former District Councilor who previously hosted Hong Kong’s June 4 memorial for seven straight years shared his thoughts with The Epoch Times. He said no one could have predicted 2019 would be the last June 4 memorial. “The freedom of assembly, which has always been taken for granted, could disappear overnight.”

Lam said extinguishing the Victoria Park candlelight memorial symbolized the disappearance of Hong Kong’s civil liberties and the right to assemble or protest. Although the Hong Kong government repeatedly stresses that the Basic Law protects the freedom of procession and assembly, it continues to prosecute social activists for sedition under the National Security Law. This has made Hong Kong’s public mourning on June 4 a high-risk activity.

Although there is no June 4 memorial in Hong Kong,  the saddened residents will find peace in knowing Amnesty International is keeping their message alive elsewhere in the world.