Police have issued a letter of objection for the annual candlelight vigil to remember the Tiananmen Square massacre – for first time since 1990 – saying the event would be a "major threat to public health".
Vigil organisers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, had already issued a call asking people to light candles wherever they are in the city after the government extended a ban on gatherings, imposed over the coronavirus outbreak to June 4.
On Monday, police issued an official letter denying permission for the vigil, saying such a gathering would be a "major threat to public health", and citing the prohibition on group gatherings of more than eight to prevent virus outbreaks.
The alliance’s secretary, Richard Tsoi, said he would consider filing an appeal, and that members of the alliance still plan to gather at Victoria Park to light candles and their event would be streamed live online.
Speaking to reporters at Victoria Park on Monday, the alliance's secretary-general Lee Cheuk-yan said he was disappointed with the decision, describing it as "totally unreasonable and unscientific", and accused police of using social distancing measures to suppress the rally.
Lee said that plan B would be for people to have separate vigils individually around the city.
The former lawmaker also expressed concerns over whether or not the vigil would be banned next year and whether or not chanting "end one-party dictatorship" -- a slogan chanted every year at the vigil -- would be deemed subversive under Beijing's national security law for Hong Kong.
"We’ll continue and see come what may," Lee said.
"In a way it’s a litmus test of one country two systems, if they suppress us, it means that one country two systems is no more."
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Tiananmen Mothers group, You Weijie, said she believes the people of Hong Kong will find their own way to show support for the bereaved families.
“I know that Hong Kong people always support us. As for this June 4, I know the people of Hong Kong will make their own arrangement to commemorate," she said.
"Under the virus outbreak, no matter what the arrangement is, I will be touched all the same. They will have my support. The candle lights at the annual vigil in Hong Kong will light up again this year, in its own way, because this is what everyone’s heart desires,” You said.
Each year, relatives of those killed in the student uprising mark the day at the Wanan cemetery in Beijing under the close watch of mainland security officers.
You said the families are worried that they will be banned from the site this year under the pretext of social distancing measures, and said they hope they can at least visit the cemetery in smaller groups at different times.
Tiananmen Mothers have been asking for compensation and for officials who ordered the military crackdown to be held accountable. But their demands are yet to be answered.
As physical remembrance events cannot be held in many places due to the coronavirus situation, a lot of online events are being planned this year to commemorate the bloodshed.
A student leader of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, Zhou Fengsuo, who is now living abroad, said this will help young people, especially those on the mainland, to learn about what happened.
Zhou said it will also show them about the importance of freedoms, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic which led to a severe lockdown of almost all major mainland cities.
He noted that the coronavirus could have been contained if one of the whistleblowers of the crisis, Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang, was not punished for “spreading false information on the internet”.
The doctor was later exonerated but died of the disease soon after, creating a huge outpouring of grief and criticism on mainland social media.
“Freedom of speech was one of the demands in the ’89 student movement, and the pandemic spreading from Wuhan to the rest of the world was a man-made disaster resulting from China’s authoritarian rule, the lack of freedom of speech, and the government’s attempt to maintain social stability above all," Zhou said.
"It reminds the whole world how dangerous China is without democracy and freedom. The death of Li Wenliang reminded some people the importance of free speech. When people think about China’s problems now, they are reminded of June 4, 1989.”
Zhou said he hoped the discussions being held on the internet would encourage more mainland people, especially the young, to take part in commemorations.