Hundreds gather in the vicinity of Hong Kong’s Central Park despite the ban on vigils in Tiananmen Square
Hundreds of people gathered near a Hong Kong park on Friday, despite a ban on an annual candlelight vigil commemorating China’s deadly crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and the arrest earlier in the day of a vigil organizer.
Hong Kong police have banned the vigil for the second consecutive year, citing coronavirus social distancing restrictions, despite the absence of local cases for more than six weeks in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
Police cordoned off large sections of Victoria Park — the site of previous vigils — in the city’s popular Causeway Bay shopping district and warned residents against participating in unauthorised assemblies, which carry a five-year prison sentence.
Despite the prohibition and a heavy police presence, hundreds of people gathered Friday night to walk around the park’s perimeter. At 8 p.m., many turned on their smartphone flashlights and lit candles in memory of those killed when China’s military crushed student-led pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people were killed as a result of the crackdown.
Tens of thousands of people have gathered in Victoria Park in previous years to pay tribute to the deceased. Thousands attended last year despite the prohibition on lighting candles and singing songs. Later, police charged over 20 activists with taking part in the event.
A man who joined the hundreds near the park on Friday and spoke only by his surname, Wong, out of fear of repercussions, said the Tiananmen Square crackdown is a shared memory for Hong Kong residents, and he wanted to pay tribute to the students and citizens killed by the People’s Liberation Army.
The ruling Communist Party of China has never permitted public commemorations on the mainland, and security was beefed up at the Beijing square, with police checking pedestrians’ identification as tour buses shuttled Chinese tourists in and out.
Chinese officials assert that the country’s rapid economic development in the years since what they refer to as the “political turmoil” of 1989 demonstrates that the country’s leaders made the correct choices at the time.
Attempts to obliterate public memory of the Tiananmen Square events have recently shifted to Hong Kong. Apart from the vigil prohibition, a temporary June 4 museum was closed earlier this week following a visit by authorities.
The efforts come amid a wave of measures aimed at quelling dissent in the city, including a new national security law, changes to the city’s election system, and the arrest of numerous activists who took part in pro-democracy protests that swept Hong Kong in 2019.
Police arrested Chow Hang Tung earlier Friday, the group said. Chow is a vice chair of the Hong Kong Alliance, which organizes Hong Kong’s annual candlelight vigil.
Although police did not identify Chow, they did say they arrested a 36-year-old member of the Hong Kong Alliance for advertising and publicizing an unauthorised assembly via social media in violation of the police prohibition on the vigil.
Following the ban’s issuance, Chow urged people to privately commemorate the event by lighting a candle wherever they were.
Chow, a lawyer, previously told The Associated Press that she expected to be arrested.
“I am already being persecuted for my role in and incitement of last year’s candlelight vigil,” she explained. “If I continue to advocate for democracy in Hong Kong and China, they will undoubtedly pursue me at some point, which is sort of expected.”
Two additional key members of the Hong Kong Alliance — Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho — are currently incarcerated for their participation in unauthorised assemblies during the 2019 protests.
On Friday afternoon, students at the University of Hong Kong participated in the annual washing of the “Pillar of Shame” sculpture, which was erected to commemorate the victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The event, according to Charles Kwok, president of the students’ union, was legal.
“By removing the Pillar of Shame, we will learn how our forefathers defended freedom of expression in the past, and we will not give up easily,” Kwok said.
While Chinese authorities seek to suppress remembrances, they appear confident that the passage of time will erase Tiananmen Square memories.
The government made no response to a petition from the Tiananmen Mothers, which was published on the Human Rights in China website, urging the party to release official records about the crackdown, compensate those killed and injured, and hold those responsible accountable.
According to the Tiananmen Mothers, many young Chinese have “grown up in a false sense of prosperous jubilation and government-enforced glorification (and) have no idea or refuse to believe what occurred on June 4, 1989.”
In recent years, the suppression of Tiananmen Square commemorations has been accompanied by harsh repression of religious and ethnic minorities in Tibet, the northwestern region of Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia, as well as a sharp curtailment of political rights in Hong Kong.
“China’s authoritarian regime has used another form of coercion — enforced amnesia — to bury the truth about the atrocities committed against its people,” Human Rights in China stated in a statement.
In self-governing Taiwan, activists organizing an annual Tiananmen Square memorial have shifted their focus largely online as the island grapples with the pandemic’s worst outbreak. In Taipei, a temporary memorial pavilion has been set up for people to leave flowers and other mementos in small groups.
The United States State Department issued a statement expressing its support for those who advocate for victims and seek the truth.
“We must never abandon our quest for transparency regarding the events of that day, including a complete accounting of all those killed, detained, or missing,” the statement stated, noting that such demands echo the struggle for political rights in Hong Kong.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, condemned the statement as interfering with China’s internal affairs and urged the US to “first look in the mirror and reflect on its own poor record on human rights.”
“How can the US lecture others on human rights?” he asked, referencing the 1921 massacre of Black residents in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as well as discrimination against minorities and US actions in the Middle East.