9 June 2020
This year marks the 31st anniversary of the June 4 incident. On 23 April, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China (“The Alliance”) – the annual vigil organiser – had notified the Commissioner of Police about holding a public assembly in Victoria Park on 4 June. However, on 1 June, the police banned the public assembly in accordance to the Prevention and Control of Disease (Prohibition on Group Gathering) Regulation (Cap. 599G) which prohibits public gatherings of more than eight people. [Note 1]
This is the first time the vigil is banned in 30 years. The Alliance then encouraged the public to light candles across the city to commemorate the June 4 incident, at least 60 booths were set up to distribute candles on that day. Ten of thousands of people gathered at Causeway Bay, Sai Ying Pun, Mong Kok, Kwun Tong, Tseung Kwan O, Tsuen Wan, Tin Shui Wai, Tuen Mun and other districts to attend the vigil. [Note 2]
Civil Rights Observer deployed human rights observers to Victoria Park to record and monitor the assembly. At around 6:30pm, Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Alliance and other members entered Victoria Park. Citizens slowly walked into the football pitches after some people pushed down the metal barriers that had been used to block the football pitches. At 8pm, six football pitches were almost filled up, with groups of people keeping their distance from one another.
According to our observation, although a large number of police officers were deployed nearby, the police took no action to prevent people from entering the park. The police was continuously broadcasting announcements, warning that the assembly had been banned, people attended might violate the Public Order Ordinance (Cap. 245) by participating in an unauthorised assembly, and gatherings of more than eight were illegal. The police officers also used video cameras to film participants of the assembly at each exits of the park.
According to the local news report earlier, a source said that the police would handle the vigil in Victoria Park with tolerance and moderation. The police would not enter Victoria Park if the assembly remained safe, peaceful and orderly. Unless participants blocked roads or acted violently, the police would not conduct dispersal operation. [Note 3]
Annual June 4 vigil is a symbolic activity in Hong Kong, and the organiser duly informed the police a month ago, while the official notification period is not less than 7 days prior to the assembly. Civil Rights Observer criticises that the government and the police failed to fulfil their obligation to positively and proactively facilitate the assembly to take place and exercise discretion to permit group gathering under section 5(1)(b) of Cap. 599G. [Note 4]
“The government and the police deliberately turned a lawful assembly into an illegal assembly under domestic law. Although the police did not disperse, arrest or issue summons to any participants of Victoria Park vigil on 4 June, the police provided sufficient legal justification that the assembly was unauthorised under the Public Order Ordinance and was a violation to the Prohibition on Group Gathering Regulation. Under such conditions, a public assembly could only be held with the police’s “acquiescence” and “tolerance”, subjecting the public assembly entirely to the police’s approval or inaction. It violated the international human rights law which states that any notification procedure of an assembly should not function as a de facto request for authorisation, which is a threat to freedom of assembly,” said Icarus Wong and Andrew Shum from Civil Rights Observer.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur was concerned that the public health regulations around the world may suppress rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, emphasising the measures are not to be used as a pretext for human rights infringements, and freedom of assembly and expression must be ensured. [Note 5]
Civil Rights Observer urges the police to respond positively and facilitate the public assemblies and processions to respect and protect freedom of assembly.
Note 1: Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen vigil, banned for the first time in 30 years: what you need to know about June 4 event in the city, South China Morning Post.
Note 2: HKFP guide to Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Massacre commemorations, as police ban annual vigil, Hong Kong Free Press.
Note 3: Source: Unless the situation is chaotic, the police would not enter Victoria Park, Now News. (Chinese only)
Note 4: Leung Kwok Hung & Others v HKSAR (2005) 8 HKCFAR 229.
Note 5: “States responses to Covid 19 threat should not halt freedoms of assembly and association” – UN expert on the rights to freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr. Clément Voule