Hong Kong banned the Tiananmen Square vigil for the first time ever. Organisers say the government is exploiting the coronavirus to silence pro-democracy protesters.

Kin CheungThousands attend a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong for victims of the Chinese government’s brutal 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square, on Tuesday, June 4, 2019.
  • On Monday, Hong Kong police said an annual candlelight vigil for the Tiananmen Square massacre would not go ahead on June 4 due to social distancing restrictions during the pandemic.
  • Every year since 1990, tens of thousands gather in Victoria Park demanding justice for the massacre victims and protesting China’s one-party rule.
  • Hong Kong Alliance chair Lee Cheuk-yan claims the government is using the virus as a ruse to stop the vigil.
  • “We believe this is totally unreasonable and unscientific,” he said, “because everything is normal in Hong Kong. They are just using this excuse to suppress our rally.”
  • On June 4, 1989, Chinese soldiers opened fire on pro-democracy protesters, killing hundreds, potentially thousands.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

For the first time in 30 years, Hong Kong will not commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre, a deadly crackdown on students demonstrating against the Chinese government in 1989.

On Monday, Hong Kong police released a letter that announcing a candlelight vigil would not go ahead on June 4 due to social distancing restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The maximum number of people currently allowed to gather is eight.

The letter was directed to the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement of China, which organizes the annual commemoration. “Police believe that the event will not only increase participants’ chances of contracting the virus but also threaten citizens’ lives and health,” it read, according to the Hong Kong Free Press., “thus endangering public safety and affecting the rights of others.”

The announcement coincided with renewed protests throughout the city, after China passed new national security legislation effectively crushing Hong Kong’s autonomy, Business Insider reported last week.

At a press conference Monday, Hong Kong Alliance chair Lee Cheuk-yan said the government was using the pandemic as a ruse to stop the vigil, according to the South China Morning Post.

Hong Kong is the only region under Beijing's jurisdiction that holds significant public commemorations of the 1989 crackdown and memorials for its victims.Kin Cheung/APHong Kong is the only region under Beijing’s jurisdiction that holds significant public commemorations of the 1989 crackdown and memorials for its victims.

“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.

Every year since 1990, tens of thousands of people have attended the candlelight vigil in Victoria Park, demanding justice for the massacre victims and protesting China’s one-party rule. Last year more than 100,000 people gathered.

Nowhere else in China are such vigils allowed.

More than 100,000 people gathered last year in Hong Kong's Victoria Park for a candlelight vigil honouring those killed in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.Kin Cheung/AP PhotoMore than 100,000 people gathered last year in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park for a candlelight vigil honouring those killed in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The Tiananmen Square massacre happened on June 4, 1989 after months of student-led protests. Chinese soldiers opened fire on protesters, as tanks drove through the square forcibly removing others. Hundreds, potentially thousands, were killed, although an official death count has never been released, according to CNN.

Joshua Rosenzweig, Amnesty International’s Deputy director for East and Southeast Asia, told the Hong Kong Free Press that the authorities should not be using the coronavirus to cut off people’s freedoms.

“By deeming this important memorial event ‘illegal,'” he said, “the police have again needlessly exacerbated rising tensions when thousands of people simply want to light a candle for those who lost their lives during the horrific events of 4 June, 1989.”

Between the ban and China’s new security laws, Rosenzweig added, it wasn’t clear if a vigil would ever be allowed to go ahead again.

To mark the anniversary this year, Hong Kong Alliance is telling people to light candles in their homes, join an online vigil, or hold smaller gatherings. There will be a minute of silence at 8.09 p.m. At least 60 booths will be set up across Hong Kong giving out candles.

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