A Hong Kong museum dedicated to telling the story of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 closed its doors yesterday, hours after the authorities said it did not have the required licences to open as a place of public entertainment.
This is the first time the June 4th Museum in Mong Kok has had "no choice" but to temporarily shut "due to government intervention", said the operator's secretary, Mr Richard Tsoi.
The museum is run by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which organises the city's annual Tiananmen vigil on June 4.
The latest move is seen by some as a clampdown on freedom of speech in Hong Kong, which for decades held the largest vigil remembering the victims of China's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square 32 years ago.
Calling it "unprecedented", Mr Tsoi said the group has for 10 years put up exhibitions related to the crackdown in different locations without being questioned by the authorities over licences.
Officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) on Tuesday afternoon turned up at the museum to investigate if the operator had the required licences. FEHD said in a statement that it had received a complaint that the venue operated without a licence.
Under the law, no one can keep or use any place of public entertainment without a licence. Offenders face a fine of up to HK$25,000 (S$4,300) and a jail term of up to six months, as well as a further fine of HK$2,000 for every day the offence continues.
In a statement issued yesterday, the alliance said it decided to close the museum until further notice to seek legal advice in order to protect the safety of staff and visitors.
"In the face of the current challenging political situation, the alliance believes Hongkongers will continue to remember June 4."
It said that people can be "smart, creative and resilient" in commemorating the event in a "legal, safe, peaceful and rational" manner in their own way.
The operator also thanked the 550 visitors to the museum in the past three days since it reopened last Sunday after renovations.
When asked, Mr Tsoi said it is unlikely the museum will reopen by tomorrow - June 4 - due to the complexity of the situation.
The annual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park is one of the key events organised by the Hong Kong Alliance for three decades. It was attended by tens of thousands of people in the past, and has been banned for a second year running due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The Hong Kong authorities had also rejected the alliance's application for a march last Sunday to commemorate those who died in the crackdown. Macau, which also banned memorial events for a second year, cited both the pandemic and "subversion" as reasons.
The alliance's chairman, Lee Cheuk Yan, is in jail for inciting, organising and participating in unauthorised assemblies in 2019.