Tiananmen vigil in HK drew thousands despite ban

Thousands flooded Hong Kong’s Victoria Park night for the annual candlelight vigil to mark the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, defying a ban on the mass gathering imposed by the police for the first time on health protection grounds, a media report said on Friday.

The show of defiance on Thursday night came on a politically charged day as the legislature passed a law criminalising disrespect for the national anthem, amid a raging controversy over China’s top legislative body tailor-making a national security law for the city, reports the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

The participants held up candles and lights as the vigil began at 8 p.m., and observed a minute’s silence at 8.09 p.m. to mourn those who died 31 years ago.

Police, who had warned they had thousands of riot officers ready and would enforce anti-coronavirus rules limiting groups to a maximum of eight people each, stood back as the crowds poured into the park in Causeway Bay and took up a couple of football pitches.

The peace was broken only in Mong Kok when protesters blocked Argyle Street and plain-clothes police officers used pepper spray and batons to stop them.

Sources said that at least four people were arrested.

At Victoria Park, social-distancing rules were set aside as participants lit candles and torches in remembrance of the victims of the June 4, 1989 crackdown on China’s pro-democracy protests, and shouted slogans challenging Beijing’s authority.

They also ignored messages broadcast over loudspeakers that they could be spreading COVID-19, said the SCMP report.

On whether the organiser of the vigil would face arrest for the illegal gathering, a source said that police would pursue the matter subject to the strength of evidence.

“The force banned the vigil on health grounds amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but we also understand that the June 4 commemoration is a symbolic and historical event, and it has been peaceful in the past,” another source said.

Hong Kong has been the only place on Chinese soil to hold a large-scale public gathering every year to mark the Tiananmen crackdown.