Hong Kong police have banned the annual candlelight vigil commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre, the deadly 1989 crackdown on students demanding democracy in Beijing, just as tensions rise in the city over controversial national-security legislation.
Police denied an application by the group that organizes the vigil in Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island, stating in a letter that the decision was due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. The letter said that violations would be punished by imprisonment and fines, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
This year would mark the first time the event has not been held in three decades.
“We are extremely disappointed and strongly object to this decision,” said Richard Tsoi, secretary of the organizing group, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China. “The freedom of assembly is enshrined in the basic law.”
“We think it’s a political decision,” Tsoi said.
The decision comes as China on Thursday approved a controversial national security law that would allow Beijing to wield expanded power over Hong Kong.
Pro-Democracy activists and other critics say the national security laws would effectively scrap the “one country, two systems” policy that has allowed Hong Kong its political freedoms and civil liberties despite still being technically governed by China.
China claims that the laws are necessary to crack down on separatism, subversion, terrorism, and foreign intervention in Hong Kong in the wake of the pro-democracy protests against Beijing that have upended the city since last summer. The measure would also allow China’s state security agencies to operate in the territory.
The Tiananmen Square vigil typically draws tens of thousands of people, who gather to commemorate the pro-democracy protests that began in April, 1989. On June 4, six weeks after the protests began, martial law was declared, and tanks fired at unarmed protesters in Tiananmen Square, with the resulting death toll estimated at between several hundred to several thousand.