Tiananmen vigil organisers close June 4 museum after government launches licensing probe

·4-min read

Organisers of Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen Square vigil have shut down their June 4 museum commemorating the 1989 crackdown, a day after the government launched an investigation following a licensing complaint.

“The management committee of the June 4 museum agreed following a meeting that [determined] more legal advice has to be sought over the incident,” the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China said in a Wednesday statement.

“We have decided to temporarily shut down the museum until further notice in a bid to protect the safety of our staff and visitors.”

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Officials investigate Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Square museum over licence breach

It emerged on Tuesday that the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department had opened an investigation into the city’s June 4 museum in response to a complaint accusing the venue of not having the relevant licence under the Places of Public Entertainment Ordinance, as required for public exhibitions.

The alliance expressed gratitude to Hongkongers for supporting the cause, saying more than 550 people had visited the museum in Mong Kok since it reopened on Sunday.

“Under the current difficult political situation, the alliance truly believes that Hongkongers’ determination to remember the June 4 [crackdown] will not dissipate,” it wrote.

“We call on Hongkongers, with their wisdom, resilience and perseverance, to use their own ways to commemorate June 4 at a suitable time and venue under a lawful, safe, peaceful and rational situation, so the truth will not disappear.”

The department on Tuesday said that, according to the ordinance, a place of public entertainment referred to any leisure site the public could access, whether free of charge or not, and that exhibitions and performances were among activities that required a licence.

On June 4, 1989, the Chinese military ordered soldiers to open fire on student protesters and civilians who had gathered at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to protest against corruption and demand greater political freedom. Reports have suggested that hundreds were killed, possibly more.

This year’s commemoration of the 1989 crackdown will be the first since the imposition of the Beijing-decreed national security law last June in Hong Kong, which bans acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

3,000 Hong Kong police officers on standby for any unauthorised June 4 vigils

Police earlier cited the coronavirus pandemic in banning the annual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park on public health grounds for a second year in a row.

But they stopped short of outlawing it under the new legislation, despite accusations from pro-establishment figures that the alliance’s goal of “ending one-party dictatorship” in China was subversive.

In May 2010, days before the 21st anniversary of the crackdown, the alliance put two large art pieces – a replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue and a six-metre long relief titled Tiananmen Massacre – in a public area of Times Square in Causeway Bay.

A volunteer last month prepares for the reopening of a new exhibition at the June 4 museum in Mong Kok. Photo: May Tse
A volunteer last month prepares for the reopening of a new exhibition at the June 4 museum in Mong Kok. Photo: May Tse

At the time, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department accused the alliance of not having a licence for the exhibition and said it was in violation of the Places of Public Entertainment Ordinance. The two art pieces were then taken away by police, who also arrested 13 alliance members.

The June 4 museum – which has existed at different locations due to a series of controversies – was opened in 2012. The government had never told the group it needed a licence, alliance secretary Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong said.

“In the face of the pressure and challenges, we can only hope that Hongkongers can use their own ways to commemorate June 4,” he said, adding that he did not believe the museum could be reopened on Friday.

Thousand of Hongkongers raise their candles during the June 4 vigil at Victoria Park in 2019. Photo: Winson Wong
Thousand of Hongkongers raise their candles during the June 4 vigil at Victoria Park in 2019. Photo: Winson Wong

A woman in her 60s, who went to the museum on Wednesday afternoon only to realise it was closed, expressed anger at the government’s move.

“The government was simply afraid citizens will always remember the crackdown [because of the museum],” the visitor, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, said.

“I don’t think that the museum will be given a licence even if they apply for one. The licensing requirement is just an excuse to shut it down.”

Her friend, also in her 60s, was likewise disappointed, but remained hopeful Hongkongers would not forget the crackdown.

She said she would educate her grandchildren about what happened, adding she had no plans to go to Victoria Park this year, but might light a candle at home or in a nearby park.

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