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Hong Kong Police Block Tiananmen Square Vigil, Citing Coronavirus Concerns

Thousands attend a 2019 candlelight vigil in Hong Kong for victims of the Chinese government's 1989 crackdown on protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Organizers question why police are blocking the demonstration this year.
Kin Cheung
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

For the first time in 30 years, police in Hong Kong have denied permission for organizers to hold an annual vigil for victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Police have cited concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

The rally has been held each year since 1990 to commemorate the lives lost in the June 4, 1989, crackdown in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The Chinese military opened fire on citizens who were calling for economic and democratic reforms.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which organized the vigil, told the South China Morning Post that alliance members still planned to enter Victoria Park to observe a moment of silence that night.

The alliance also asked the public to join an online gathering and light candles across the city.

NPR's Emily Feng reported that the move to deny the demonstration comes amid controversy surrounding China's proposed national security law that could limit Hong Kong's autonomy.

The potential law has concerned pro-democracy advocates, and as Feng noted, "Legal scholars question whether Beijing has the authority to impose this law on Hong Kong."

In justifying an earlier extension of restrictions to June 4, police cited a lingering threat of the spread of the coronavirus, The Guardian reported.

"Police believe the event will not only increase participants' chances of contracting the virus, but also threaten citizens' lives and health, thus endangering public safety and affecting the rights of others," police said, according to the newspaper.

Lee Cheuk-yan, who chairs the alliance that organized the event, told the South China Morning Post that he believes the government was using the pandemic to shut down the demonstration.

"We believe this is totally unreasonable and unscientific, because everything is normal in Hong Kong. They are just using this excuse to suppress our rally," he said, adding that many other facilities had already reopened.

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Austin Horn is a 2019-2020 Kroc Fellow. He joined NPR after internships at the San Antonio Express-News and Frankfort State-Journal, as well as a couple stints in the service industry. He aims to keep his reporting grounded in the experience of real individuals of all stripes.