Don't douse flame of symbolic vigil

Editorial | Mary Ma 5 Jun 2020

The June 4 candlelight vigil in Victoria Park has always been a special event - both before and after the handover.

Additional attention was given to it last night because the event this year was banned - albeit "technically" - for the first time since 1990.

Police said they had no choice but to object to it in light of the pandemic restriction limiting public gatherings to groups of no more than eight people.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department erected barricades around the park's football pitches in advance.

Defying the ban, Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China appealed to the public to continue to commemorate the Tiananmen Square military crackdown in 1989 by lighting candles and praying for the victims no matter where they were last night.

Alliance leaders also ignored the ban, going to the park where they were joined by many others making their own way there for the memorial.

The vigil went on - albeit in a way different from the past.

Another development making this year's June 4 vigil special was Beijing's decision to impose the national security law on Hong Kong by expanding the Basic Law Annex 3.

This was amid fears the security law would curb Hongkongers' freedom.

The June 4 vigil has always been symbolic - all the more so after 1997.

Before then, the Victoria Park vigil was symbolic of people's unity. After 1997, it was symbolic of the one country, two systems policy for the SAR.

While June 4 and any reference to it are strictly censored in the mainland, it is allowed to be commemorated in the SAR, and Hongkongers are free to remember it however they choose.

So it will be sad and a great loss for the SAR if the public is not allowed to continue to do so: the candlelight vigil is effectively the most popular symbol of one country, two systems.

Last night, candles were lit in Victoria Park and across the city. Despite the ban on gatherings, police refrained from breaking up crowds gathering in the park.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the Hong Kong government for refusing to give this important vigil the green light, while police insisted they objected to it merely out of concerns for controlling the pandemic.

Maybe it was just a coincidence that the pandemic is still affecting us in the SAR. Hopefully, the disease will be gone this time next year and police will allow the alliance to once again hold the vigil in Victoria Park. Otherwise, what the event symbolizes would be truly in danger.

Hours before the event, police sought to pass a message to the public via a TV station via "sources," assuring that the force would not break up the vigil in the park if it went on safely and peacefully.

It was wise of the police to give that assurance.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and the Central Liaison Office said the one country, two systems policy has not been impaired. That's fine - but remember, actions speak louder than words.

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