HK's June 4th museum temporarily closes over licensing probe

HONG KONG, June 2 (Reuters) - Hong Kong's June 4th Museum, dedicated to commemorating the victims of China's 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square, said on Wednesday it would temporarily close due to a licensing investigation.

The museum said in a statement that officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) entered its premises on Tuesday, claiming it had not obtained a public entertainment venue licence and was potentially in breach of regulations.

FEHD said in a statement its probe was launched after it had received a complaint that the venue operated without a licence.

The museum, opened a decade ago and run by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, said it would seek legal advice, and close until further notice to protect the safety of staff and visitors.

"Facing the current difficult political situation, the Alliance deeply believes that Hong Kongers will not forget June 4," the statement said.

The Alliance "hopes Hong Kongers will continue to be wise, flexible and determined to commemorate June 4 legally, safely, peacefully, rationally in their own way, at a suitable time and place, such that the truth will not be forgotten."

The inspection raises concerns over freedom of speech in Hong Kong, which traditionally holds the largest June 4 vigil in the world to commemorate the crackdown. Mainland China bans commemorations and heavily censors the topic.

After Beijing set the financial hub onto an authoritarian path with its imposition of a sweeping national security law last year, fears have grown that such vigils - which typically draw tens of thousands - would not be allowed any more.

Police have cited coronavirus restrictions to ban the vigil for the second consecutive year this year. Authorities have warned the public that taking part in an unauthorised assembly raises the risk of up to five years in prison, while "advertising or publicising" illegal rallies may lead to up to 12 months.

Commemorations are particularly awkward for Beijing this year, as the Communist Party celebrates its 100th anniversary.

Asked whether a vigil would violate the security law, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said only that it was important to show respect to the Party.

The museum reopened on Sunday after closing for renovations for several weeks.

The Alliance's chairman Lee Cheuk-Yan is in jail accused of participating in an unauthorised assembly.

Reporting by Sharon Abratique and Aleksander Solum; Writing by Marius Zaharia

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