Police have arrested an organiser of Hong Kong’s annual candlelight vigil remembering the deadly Tiananmen Square crackdown and warned people not to attend the banned event.
In past years, tens of thousands of people gathered in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to honour those who died when China’s military put down student-led pro-democracy protests on June 4, 1989. Hundreds, if not thousands were killed.
China’s ruling Communist Party has never allowed public events marking the military’s attack on protesters and citizens, and security was increased in the Beijing square on Friday morning, with police checking pedestrians’ IDs and tour buses shuttling Chinese tourists as on any other day.
Authorities have suppressed all discussion of the events on the mainland, where the few remaining activists and victims’ advocates are put under increased police monitoring and taken away on involuntary “vacations” around the anniversary.
Chinese officials claim that the country’s rapid economic development in the years since what they call the “political turmoil” of 1989 proves that decisions made at the time had been correct.
Along with the deaths of protesters and ordinary citizens, the events of 1989 caused considerable turmoil within the party, with the reformist general secretary, Zhao Ziyang, removed from office and placed under house arrest until his death in 2005.
Efforts to suppress public memory of the Tiananmen events have lately turned to Hong Kong, where the June 4 Museum was closed this week and police again warned residents not to attend the vigil.
The night-time event in Victoria Park has been banned for a second year under coronavirus pandemic restrictions, although the city has had no local cases for over six weeks. But the action comes amid sweeping moves to quell dissent in the city, including a new national security law, election changes and arrests of many activists who participated in pro-democracy protests that swept across Hong Kong in 2019.
Hong Kong police in vehicles and on foot cordoned off parts of Victoria Park, including football pitches and basketball courts, to prevent any unauthorised gatherings. Police said they were aware of calls on social media urging people to turn up for the vigil.
Taking part in an illegal gathering carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, while merely promoting such an event can result in a year in jail.
“Police appeal to members of the public to refrain from participating in, advertising or publicising any unauthorised assemblies and prohibited gatherings,” a government statement said.
In the University of Hong Kong, students took part in the annual washing of the “Pillar of Shame” sculpture, which was erected to remember the victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Law Kwok-hoi, police senior superintendent, told reporters police had arrested a 36-year-old woman from the Hong Kong Alliance, as well as a 20-year-old food delivery man for advertising and publicising an unauthorised assembly on their social media accounts even after the vigil was banned.
Chow Hang Tung, vice chairwoman of the group, was arrested on Friday morning, according to the alliance, which organised the vigil and ran the June 4 Museum dedicated to the memory of Tiananmen.
After the ban was issued, Ms Chow urged people to commemorate the event privately by lighting a candle wherever they are.
Last year, thousands went to Victoria Park to light candles and sing songs. Police later charged more than 20 activists including Ms Chow for their participation in the event.
Two other key members of the Hong Kong Alliance — Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho — are behind bars for joining unauthorised assemblies in 2019.
Ms Chow, a barrister, said in an earlier interview with The Associated Press that she was expecting to be imprisoned at some point for her activism. She has been part of the Hong Kong Alliance since 2010.
“I’m already being persecuted for participating and inciting last year’s candlelight vigil,” she said. “If I continue my activism in pushing for democracy in Hong Kong and China, surely they will come after me at some point, so it’s sort of expected.”