HONG KONG (Reuters) – Unable to hold a mass vigil due to coronavirus controls, the people of Hong Kong should light candles across the city to commemorate pro-democracy protesters killed in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, an organiser said on Wednesday.
This year’s June 4 anniversary of the crackdown by China’s communist rulers would be extremely sensitive, after the anti-government mass protests and sometimes violent unrest seen in semi-autonomous Hong Kong since July last year.
In past years, tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong have joined sombre and peaceful candlelit vigils in a downtown park in the biggest commemoration of the 1989 crackdown in Beijing, when Chinese troops opened fire on student-led protesters.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong authorities said the limit on group gatherings to no more than eight people would be extended at least until the end of the day on June 4.
Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which organises the annual vigils, told Reuters on Wednesday he believed the motive for the extension was “political suppression.”
Police have still to respond to an application for the annual vigil to be held in Victoria Park, Lee said, adding that he was “not optimistic.”
“We have to have a plan B,” Lee said. “Instead of one point, we will do it everywhere, still with the powerful candlelight to condemn the massacre and mourn for those who died in 1989.”
The death toll given by officials days after the crackdown was about 300, most of them soldiers, with only 23 students confirmed killed. China has never provided a full accounting of the violence, but rights groups and witnesses say the figure could run into the thousands. The topic is taboo in China.
Lee said the Tiananmen vigil represented “a litmus test for one country, two systems” – the agreement governing Britain’s handover of the city to China in 1997, which gives it freedoms unavailable on the mainland.
Health Secretary Sophia Chan and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday health measures were not based on political considerations.
Hong Kong has recorded few new coronavirus cases recently, with the total lingering just above 1,000, but on May 13 the city reported its first case in more than three weeks involving someone who had not travelled overseas.
Authorities allowed bars, cinemas and gyms to re-open earlier this month and said religious gatherings can resume with certain safety rules. Bath houses, karaoke bars and night clubs will stay closed for another week.
Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore