Thousands of Hong Kong police are expected to surround a central park and patrol the city’s streets to prevent people gathering to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
China has made clear it will no longer tolerate the traditional day of pro-democracy protests, as Hong Kong’s traditional status as the only place in China where large-scale commemorations were tolerated appear to be coming to an end.
A member of the committee that organises the annual candlelight vigil for the victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown was arrested early Friday, local media reported.
Critics say the heightened vigilance from authorities is a marked departure from Hong Kong’s cherished freedoms of speech and assembly, bringing the global financial hub closer in line with mainland China’s strict controls on society.
The former British colony, promised a high degree of autonomy from Beijing upon its return to Chinese rule in 1997, has traditionally held the world’s largest vigil for the Tiananmen victims.
Police have banned the June 4 vigil for a second year in a row, citing the coronavirus. It did not say whether commemorating Tiananmen would breach a sweeping national security law China imposed in 2020 to set the city on an authoritarian path.
Beijing imposed the security law on Hong Kong just a few weeks after last year’s rally in response to 2019’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.
City leader Carrie Lam has not commented on commemorations, saying only that citizens must respect the law, as well as the Communist Party, which this year celebrates its 100th anniversary.
June 4 commemorations are banned in mainland China.
Last year, thousands in Hong Kong defied the ban, gathering in Victoria Park and lining up on footpaths with lit candles across the city.
Many plan to light candles again in their neighbourhood, if safe to do so. Some churches will be open for prayers.
Prominent activist Joshua Wong was given a 10-month prison sentence last month for taking part in last year’s vigil, while three others received four- to six-month sentences.
Twenty more are due in court on June 11 on similar charges.
Public broadcaster RTHK reported police would have 7000 officers on the streets on Friday, conducting stop-and-search operations throughout the day.
Unauthorised assemblies pose the risk of up to five years in prison, while “advertising or publicising” illegal rallies may be punished by up to 12 months.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the organiser of the annual vigil, has dropped calls for people to show up at Victoria Park and not run an online commemoration as in 2020.
Its chairman Lee Cheuk-yan is in jail over an illegal assembly.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong’s June 4th Museum said it would temporarily close after authorities said it did not have a public entertainment venue licence.