In the evening, a strong police presence was visible there.
Authorities in the former British colony had earlier warned that most of the iconic venue’s gathering spaces – particularly the football pitches used for the candlelight vigil in previous years – would be off limits between Friday evening and early hours of Sunday.
And this “to prevent any prohibited gathering which could undermine public safety and public order and risk spreading the coronavirus”.
In the bustling shopping district of nearby Causeway Bay, an artist who had carved a potato into the shape of a candle and held a lighter near it was taken to a police van, a reporter from the AFP.
The man, Chan Mei-tung, was one of three performers performing Friday night street performances that refer in a roundabout way to events in 1989 in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square near one of Hong Kong’s busiest intersections. Kong.
One of them thus invited passers-by to take up a “mathematical challenge” whose solution was the number 8.964, a reference to the date of June 4, 1989. Another, Sanmu Chan, presented an abstract piece which highlighted scene a candle frozen in a small block of ice.
All were closely watched by the police, who recalled on this occasion that “participating in an unauthorized assembly” carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison. She further warned spectators against the risk of breaking social distancing legislation passed as part of the fight against the spread of Covid-19.
Earlier in the day, authorities announced the arrest of a 59-year-old security guard suspected of making threats on social media to kill police officers during memorial events.
Already on Thursday, the police had tried to dissuade the population from taking part in rallies and therefore breaking the 2020 national security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong – which has so far enjoyed semi-autonomy – to stifle any hint of action in favor of democracy.
– A match and songs –
In the past, Hong Kong was the only Chinese territory where commemorations and tributes to the victims of June 4, 1989, were tolerated, when the Chinese government sent soldiers and tanks to brutally suppress people peacefully demonstrating for democracy.
In mainland China, the subject remains taboo, whether in the media or in books.
In Hong Kong, the annual vigil had already been banned in 2020 and 2021, in the name of health measures against the coronavirus.
The main organizers of the commemorations have kept a low profile this year, but police say they have seen calls on social media to gather in or around Victoria Park.
The Hong Kong Alliance, the organizer of the Victoria Park vigil, is now dissolved and its leaders are being prosecuted for “incitement to subversion”.
Jailed former Alliance leader Lee Cheuk-yan announced in a letter that he planned to fast on Saturday and would light a match and sing memorial songs in his cell.
“I believe Hong Kong people will join me in marking June 4 in all sincerity, using their own means to express their commitment to democracy,” Lee wrote in a letter posted online Friday.
In Macao, former opposition lawmaker Au Kam-san stressed that Democrats would not hold a dedicated Tiananmen vigil this year due to “the deteriorating political environment” in the former Portuguese colony, adding that a historical exhibition would also be cancelled.
Mr Au, however, said he would light a candle on June 4.