Thousands defy vigil ban

Top News | Sophie Hui, Jane Cheung and Amy Nip 5 Jun 2020

Tens of thousands last night showed up in person at the annual vigil in Victoria Park to commemorate the June 4 crackdown, defying a ban police imposed for the first time in 30 years.

In the beginning, early birds tried to sit further apart from each other in groups of eight. However, they had to brush shoulders with each other by the time the vigil officially started at 8pm.

Candlelight vigils also sprang up in other districts, including Mong Kok, Sai Ying Pun, Tuen Mun and Tseung Kwan O, in smaller assemblies.

Last year organizers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, put the number in Causeway Bay at 180,000 while police said there were 37,000.

The Victoria Park groups also protested against the national security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong, whose implementation threatens the continuation of the annual commemoration in the SAR.

Since the 1989 crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen, a candlelight vigil has been held at Victoria Park on June 4.

But for the first time, the application to organize the vigil this year was banned by police, citing the Covid-19 pandemic and the eight-person cap on social gatherings, which was supposed to end yesterday but has been extended to June 18.

A group of about 100 people, including alliance members and pro-democracy veterans, pushed down metal barriers and walked into the park at 6.30pm. By 8pm, the people filled six soccer pitches, which have been closed amid the pandemic.

There was strong police presence in Causeway Bay, but they did not stop crowds from flocking to the park. Warnings that the vigil was an unauthorized assembly and that those taking part would breach the gathering ban was broadcast.

A handful of protesters including former lawmaker Leung Kwok-heung headed to the Liaison Office in Western district.

An armored vehicle and water cannon were stationed outside.

Alliance chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said candle lights flickered from Victoria Park across the city to "condemn the massacre, commemorate sacrificed lives, advocate the end of one-party rule and to establish a democratic China."

"The whole world is watching Hong Kong," he said. "Police banned the vigil but European countries called for the Hong Kong government to give us the freedom of assembly."

Lee said it was worrying for the police to use the pandemic as a reason to ban the vigil this year.

What will happen next year is unclear, with the national security law expected to be implemented this summer.

The law will ban subversion and sedition, raising queries on whether the alliance's June 4 vigil with its trademark slogan of "end one party rule" will be allowed to continue.

But Lee said the alliance will continue to light candles inside the park next year, regardless of whether the police approves or not: "We need to accept that prosecution is a part of life. I believe people will insist on coming no matter what."

A woman surnamed Lai, who usually attends the vigil each year, said she decided to join last night despite worries over prosecution. "If we don't attend the vigil only because police banned it, then it will be what they hoped for," she said.

"If we don't come this year, it will be even more difficult for us to attend next year," she said. "I don't want candlelight for June 4 to vanish."

A Secondary Four student, Chan, said he wanted to take part in person despite it being live streamed across several platforms. "Like myself, I believe many people would think this is the last June 4 vigil before the national security law for Hong Kong takes effect," he said.

A Malaysian surnamed Liau flew to Hong Kong for the vigil as he wanted to let people in his country know what's happening here. "It's really sad that Hong Kong has changed a lot since 1997," he said. "And with the national security law, they can suppress the vigil and the June 4 Museum with a 'proper reason.'"

Unlike previous years when people watched the vigil on a giant screen and listened to the alliance via speakers, yesterday's vigil was more spontaneous.

An "online assembly" was also held, during which thousands of viewers watched the Victoria Park vigil live on the alliance's Facebook and Youtube accounts.

There were also video interviews of dissidents and the Tiananmen Mothers.

Dissident Yang Jianli in the United States said what is happening in Hong Kong is a "slow version of the Tiananmen massacre."

"What's going on in Hong Kong already exceeded June 4. Our hope is in Hong Kong," Yang said.

At least four people were arrested in Mong Kok when they attempted to block Argyle Street. Riot police raised a blue flag, warning of an illegal assembly.

Editorial: Don't douse flame of symbolic vigil

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