WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Chinese government in Beijing again banned an annual candlelight vigil to honor the victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre because the Communist Party “cannot tolerate the truth of its actions in 1989 being recognized anywhere,” said the head of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong.

The committee was recently founded to defend religious freedom and other basic human rights in Hong Kong.

“The true intent of the ban is made clear by the vindictive prosecution and imprisonment of Hong Kong democrats for honoring the victims of June 4, 1989, last year,” committee president Ellen Bork said in a June 3 statement. “The world’s democracies must respond as if Hong Kong is the front line of China’s assault on freedom around the world — because it is.”

Police said they had to cancel the event this year and last year because of social distancing rules put in place to control the spread of COVID-19.

The protesters killed in Tiananmen Square in mainland China in 1989 used to be remembered in Hong Kong with an annual candlelight vigil in the city’s expansive Victoria Park, attended by crowds as big as 130,000, all holding flickering candles.

Seven Catholic churches scheduled Masses for June 4 at the time the vigils would normally occur.

“Annual calls by democratic governments for an official Chinese accounting of the dead and an end to punishment of Chinese citizens for even private discussions of the events of June 4 have achieved nothing,” said Bork.

“There must be political and economic consequences imposed on China’s government for mounting repression in Hong Kong,” she added.

Bork and the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong also have spoken out about the recent imprisonment of Catholic media tycoon and philanthropist Jimmy Lai. He was recently sentenced to 12 months in jail after being found guilty of unauthorized assembly.

Ucanews.com reported he was among nine activists in court April 16 who earlier were found guilty of charges relating to pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. Lai, 73, has donated millions of dollars to Catholic causes and has been the biggest financial backer of Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired archbishop of Hong Kong, ucanews.com reported.

At a June 4 event in Washington sponsored by the Chinese Democracy and Human Rights Alliance, the co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said: “We remember Tiananmen each year because it is too important to forget and too dangerous to recognize inside China.”

“While the Chinese Communist Party survived the seismic political shifts that brought down the Berlin Wall and Eastern European and Soviet communism, we must nevertheless recommit today — and for as long as it takes — to the freedom of every man, woman, and child living in China,” he said.

“We must dare to hope … the Chinese Communist Party’s cruelty, depravity and selfish governance need not be forever,” Smith added. “We will always stand with the oppressed — not the oppressor — no matter how long it takes.”

The pro-democracy protest in Beijing’s central Tiananmen Square in April 1989 began as a student-led occupation calling for political and economic liberalization.

After several weeks, when negotiations between the protesters and the government failed, Communist Party officials sent in a column of tanks and armed troops into Tiananmen Square June 4 and fired on civilians. The night ended in bloodshed.

China has written Tiananmen Square out of its history books and, according to news reports, routinely bans posts and keywords that mention the incident.

Some estimates put the death toll from the bloody crackdown as high as 10,000.

The Wall Street Journal reported late June 4 that “thousands of people in Hong Kong defied a huge police presence and threats of jail to commemorate” the massacre.