Authorities in Hong Kong have shut down a museum commemorating the anniversary of the military massacre of civilians in early June 1989 that ended weeks of student-led protests on Tiananmen Square and across China.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China had earlier reopened its June 4 Memorial Museum, displaying a photo exhibition to mark the 32nd anniversary of the crackdown.
The group made the move after police rejected its application for an annual candlelight vigil gathering in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park for the second year running.
The Alliance closed down the museum on Wednesday after officials from the Food and Environmental Hygiene department accused it of operating as a place of public entertainment without the required licenses.
It said it had taken the decision in order to protect the safety of staff members and visitors, adding that 550 people had visited since it reopened on Sunday.
“We must carefully review the situation and seek legal advice,” Alliance spokesman Richard Tsoi told reporters.
“We must consider the safety of the cultural artefacts in the museum, as well as the safety of staff, volunteers, and participants,” he said. “Therefore we will temporarily close the June 4th Memorial Hall, seek legal advice, and then see how to proceed from there.”
Under the city’s laws, anyone operating a public entertainment venue in Hong Kong must apply for a license from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.
Entertainment licensing requirements also cover film screenings, photographic exhibits, and exhibitions of artifacts. The Alliance said this is the first time it has been approached by the department regarding a license.
Vigil set to go ahead
The closure of the museum comes amid uncertainty over whether large numbers of people will defy the ban on the Victoria Park vigil on Friday.
Thousands of people defied a similar ban last year, showing up at the park’s soccer pitches to commemorate those who died.
Finding their way past multiple barriers set up around Victoria Park to keep crowds out, the mourners joined a small group of Alliance members who were preparing to livestream a brief ceremony from the park, in keeping with COVID-19 restrictions.
Tsoi said he plans to mark Friday’s anniversary at the museum.
“I just hope that everyone in Hong Kong will find their own way to mourn the June 4 [massacre], at a suitable time and place,” he said.
A Hong Kong resident who gave only a surname Wong said she was unhappy about the ban on the vigil, and even more disappointed at the closure of the museum, after showing up there expecting it to be open.
“It seems they are just finding a pretext to shut down any activities organized by the Alliance,” she said.
A resident surnamed Lau said she had made a special trip to the museum, only to find it closed.
“I’d never been before, so I wanted to see what was in there.” Lau said. “There are records of June 4, and also extracts from books and newspapers at the time.”
“This is history, and you can’t cover up history,” she said. “If you can’t see this information here, then where can you go to see it?”
One community action group said it would set up a booth to hand out candles on Friday, while the pro-protest shop Chickeeduck will be handing out free candles at its branch in Tsuen Wan starting on Wednesday.
The store has already set up a display of electronic candles marked with the slogan “Support the Tiananmen Mothers,” referring to a group of family members of those who died and victims who were maimed in the massacre.
‘Don’t let the chain break’
Barrister and Alliance chairperson Chow Hang-tung called on the people of Hong Kong to ensure that the candlelight vigil on June 4 continues in some form.
“The bottom line is that the people of Hong Kong need to join together to protect the candlelight vigil on this June 4,” Chow said. “We can’t let the chain break.”
“Regardless of what faction you are in or what position you hold, our biggest enemy right now is constant suppression by the government,” she said.
A recent survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute found that only 30 percent of people in Hong Kong now expect any improvement in the human rights system in China over the next three years.
Only 50 percent said they felt Hongkongers had a responsibility to fight for democracy across the whole of China.