Hong Kong's Tiananmen Massacre Museum Under Pressure: Activists

china-hk-vigil-june-4-2014.jpg Hong Kong citizens attend a candlelight vigil in Victoria Park to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown on June 4, 2014.

Hong Kong activists running a museum dedicated to the 1989 student-led protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square and the subsequent military crackdown say they are being targeted by officials and a property management company in moves they suspect may be politically motivated.

In a sign that pro-Beijing political forces could be stepping up pressure on its critics ahead of the highly sensitive anniversary, Hong Kong's buildings assessment body issued an order saying the June 4 Memorial Hall museum in the bustling shopping district of Tsimshatsui has contravened building regulations in the former British colony, the museum's founders said on Monday.

"We didn't even know that this order had been issued," deputy chairman Richard Choi of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China told RFA.

"[This] was discovered by some local media organizations, who checked up."

Choi said the memorial hall management had completed the recommended building improvements in March.

"Now we are waiting for the Buildings Department to come and check it," he said.

Already controversial

The museum, which opened in April 2014 ahead of the 25th anniversary of the bloodshed, is no stranger to controversy.

Shortly before it opened, the managers of the commercial building in Hong Kong's shopping district of Tsimshatsui wrote to the Alliance to complain about the plan, saying the building is unsuitable for the purpose.

Now, the management company has filed a civil lawsuit over the museum's presence in the building.

Choi said it was highly unusual for Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government's Buildings Department, which often comes under fire for not doing enough to regulate illegal structures, to concern itself with smaller buildings.

"It's possible that the department issued this letter because they received complaints from someone, so they started to pay particular attention to us and to find improvements that we need to make," he said.

Choi said the management company in charge of running the building had filed a civil lawsuit against the Alliance, and had made life difficult at times for people wishing to visit the museum.

"They are using their powers in managing the building to place all sorts of restrictions on them," he said.

Names required

Museum curator Andew Lam said building management was requiring visitors to the building to sign in with their names and ID card numbers before they could visit.

Building security staff have no power under Hong Kong law to demand to see a person's identity card, but visitor books requiring ID card numbers are nevertheless a common feature of daily life in the city.

He said some mainland Chinese visitors had been put off from visiting for fear of reprisals back home, in spite of having specially made the trip.

"The requirement to register and provide ID information at the main entrance to the building was a form of threat to the tourists from the mainland," Lam told RFA on Monday.

Nevertheless, the museum is proving popular with visitors, Choi said.

"In just over a year of operation, we have had tens of thousands of visitors," he said. "The number of visitors will likely rise next month, when we have the 26th anniversary of June 4."

Memorials banned

Hong Kong, which was promised the continuation of its freedom of expression, association, and assembly after its 1997 handover to Chinese rule, is the only city in China where the 1989 violence is openly commemorated.

Across the internal border in mainland China, public memorials marking the event are banned, and the ruling Chinese Communist Party has ignored growing calls for a reappraisal of the 1989 student protests, which it has styled a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."

The authorities have detained or sentenced a number of prominent activists, including Yu Shiwen and rights attorneys Tang Jingling and Pu Zhiqiang, on subversion charges linked to their commemoration of the massacre.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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