HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong authorities for the second year have banned the June 4 candlelight vigil commemorating the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, organizers said Thursday.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which organizes the candlelight vigil annually, said in a statement that the police had objected to the event because of social distancing restrictions, which prohibit large gatherings.
For years, Hong Kong and Macao were the only cities in China where people were allowed to mark the 1989 anniversary of Beijing’s crushing of the Chinese democracy movement.
The ban on the vigil comes as Beijing has tightened control over the semi-autonomous Chinese city, after months of anti-government protests in 2019.
Beijing and local authorities have cracked down on dissenting voices, conducted mass arrests of pro-democracy activists and imposed a sweeping national security law to penalize crimes such as secession and subversion.
Hong Kong's security minister, John Lee, warned residents not to organize or take part in unauthorized assemblies on June 4 because they could be violating the national security law.
On Thursday, the legislature passed a bill amending electoral laws that drastically reduces the public’s ability to vote, while increasing the number of pro-Beijing lawmakers making decisions for the city.
Last year, the June 4 vigil was banned for the first time, with police citing public health risks from the coronavirus pandemic. Still, thousands turned up at Victoria Park — where the vigil is held each year — singing songs and lighting candles. No arrests were made at the time.
More than 20 people, including activist Joshua Wong, media tycoon Jimmy Lai and Lee Cheuk-yan, a leader of the alliance, were arrested later and charged with taking part in an unauthorized assembly. Wong and three district councilors were sentenced on May 6 to between four and 10 months in jail after pleading guilty.
Organizers this year have urged people to light a candle no matter where they are on June 4.
Separately, security minister Lee on Thursday also confirmed that he had sent letters to companies that managed assets for Lai, the founder of the Apple Daily newspaper, warning them against dealing with Lai's property.
Lai is currently in prison for taking part in unauthorized assemblies and is also being investigated under the national security law for alleged collusion with foreign powers to intervene in the city's affairs.
“As regards my written notice to companies and institutions regarding property which are offenses-related property under the National Security Law, I am exercising the power, because Lai has been charged with two offenses of collusion with other countries, or external forces to endanger national security," he said.
“It is my duty to specify in my notice to the relevant parties what will be the consequences if they fail to comply with my direction.”