Responding to the authorities’ banning of Hong Kong’s annual June Fourth Tiananmen anniversary vigil for the first time in 30 years due to COVID-19 social distancing measures, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East and South East Asia, Joshua Rosenzweig, said:
“COVID-19 must not be used as an excuse to stifle freedom of expression. Hong Kong authorities should help facilitate a socially distanced Tiananmen vigil rather than outright banning it. On June Fourth, of all days, people in Hong Kong must be allowed to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
“In recent weeks we have seen the Hong Kong police repeatedly clamp down on peaceful protests with arbitrary mass arrests and excessive force – including the use of tear gas and pepper pellets. By deeming this important memorial event ‘illegal’, the police have again needlessly exacerbated rising tensions when thousands of people simply want to light a candle for those who lost their lives during the horrific events of 4 June, 1989.
“With this ban, and a disastrous national security law looming, it is not clear if Hong Kong’s Tiananmen vigil will ever be allowed to take place again.”
On the evening of 3–4 June, 1989 in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, hundreds – possibly thousands – of people were killed when troops opened fire on students and workers who had been peacefully calling for political and economic reforms as well as an end to corruption. No one knows the exact number of fatalities since the Chinese authorities have stifled and censored discussion of the crackdown for the past three decades.
Every year on 4 June since 1990, tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of people have joined a candlelit vigil in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to remember those killed and call on the Chinese authorities to reveal the truth about what happened and take accountability for the fatalities.
On Monday, police banned Thursday’s planned event on public health grounds. Hong Kong’s ban on gatherings of more than eight people due to COVID-19 was recently extended until Friday, 5 June. The city has had a total of 10 locally transmitted cases of the virus in the past six weeks.
Protests have reignited in Hong Kong in recent weeks in response to a Beijing-imposed framework for a national security law for the city and another locally proposed law that would criminalize ridicule of China’s national anthem.
Last Wednesday, police indiscriminately fired pepper pellets to disperse a protest, while more than 300 people were arbitrarily arrested in a heavy-handed police operation.
Last month, the Macau government also banned the city’s annual Tiananmen photo exhibition despite no social distancing measures being in place.