Organisers of Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Square vigil have urged people to “be water” and find their own ways to hold commemorations after coronavirus bans on gatherings were extended.

The annual event marking the 1989 brutal crackdown by the Chinese army on protesters is traditionally the largest and only authorised commemoration of the massacre anywhere in China.

However on Tuesday Hong Kong authorities extended until 4 June physical distancing laws limiting public gatherings to eight people, while relaxing other restrictions.

Hong Kong police have cited the extension in refusing permission for a march on 4 June, and organisers expect refusal for the evening vigil.

Lee Cheuk-Yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, said the decision to extend the limits was “clearly a political one”, telling the Guardian: “When you allow schools to reopen on May 27, when you allow religious gatherings to resume, when you allow even swimming pools to open and business activity will soon all reopen, but then you just ban gatherings?

“The [virus] awareness in Hong Kong is very high and people will have respect for social distancing requirements and wear masks. There is no risk.”

With the usual vigil in Victoria Park – an area roughly the size of six football fields – likely to be banned, Lee said “plan B” was to ask residents to light candles across the city and for supporters across the world to light candles and observe a minute’s silence at 8.09pm. “I think this is more powerful.”

Authorities have been accused of using pandemic laws to break up protests and target demonstrators and press. The pro-democracy protest movement, which held mass protests across the city for most of last year, is showing signs of a resurgence as the threat of Covid-19 eases. The government denies the extension is to stop political gatherings.

Lee, a veteran activist, has been a vocal figure of the pro-democracy movement. He has been arrested twice this year including in a recent round up of 15 high-profile individuals that was condemned by human rights and legal groups.

They are facing charges of organising and participating in several unauthorised assemblies in 2019, with some members including Lee facing extra charges of inciting others to “knowingly take part in an unauthorised assembly”.

In an address to the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club on Wednesday, Britain’s last governor of the territory, Chris Patten, urged its people not to give in to growing pressure from Beijing and to continue marches on other significant dates, while avoiding violence. “It’s very important that people go on standing up for what they believe in and voting for what they believe in,” Patten said.

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