Hong Kong extends gathering ban past Tiananmen anniversary


Hong Kong authorities on Tuesday has extended its ban on public gatherings until June 04, the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, citing its ongoing success in preventing widespread coronavirus infection.

Current citywide restrictions that ostensibly limited the spread of the coronavirus, gatherings of more than eight people are banned. The ban had been due to expire on Thursday.

Chief executive Carrie Lam denied there was a political motive behind the extension of the ban in a city that has seen a little over 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and just four deaths.

“When you are faced with a very major public health crisis, all governments need these sorts of measures,” Lam told journalists. “We are already less severe because we never imposed a complete city lockdown. We never prohibited people from leaving their homes,” she said.

“Large crowds make it very easy to transmit infectious diseases. That’s the basis of the social distancing measures as far as prohibiting group gatherings is concerned,” she said.

Hong Kong — which was promised the continuation of its traditional freedoms under Chinese rule — has until now been the only city in the People’s Republic of China to hold public memorial events marking the massacre, when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) put a bloody end to weeks of student-led democracy protests on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Health Secretary Sophia Chan said the restrictions on gatherings are being extended due to a cluster of local COVID-19 infections in Tsuen Wan district, saying the outbreak suggested that there is still asymptomatic transmission of the virus in the community.

The restrictions will effectively ban an annual June 04 vigil led by pro-democracy groups at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park for the first time since the 1997 handover.

The ban comes after widespread anger among pro-democracy lawmakers after a pro-Beijing politician strong-armed her way into the leadership of the Legislative Council’s House Committee, which sets the agenda, including the tabling of new legislation.

The election of pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee to the position of chairwoman came after most pro-democracy members were dragged out of the room by security guards.

The strong-arm tactics by pro-Beijing lawmakers, working with security guards in LegCo, came after Dennis Kwok, the pro-democracy chair of the committee, was physically ousted from his seat by Lee last week.

China’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO) accused Kwok of violating his oath of allegiance as a lawmaker, which has been a precursor to the removal of several pro-democracy lawmakers in recent years, leaving the camp with insufficient votes to block key legislation in LegCo.

The HKMAO has also recently used anti-terrorism rhetoric to describe the pro-democracy movement, calling it a “political virus” and a “dark, destructive force.” (Source: RFA)