Jun 04, 2020

Hong Kong: Tienanmen Commemoration Restricted

31 years after the event took place, the Tienanmen Square protests have been commemorated around the world. Hong Kong in particular has commemorated the pro-democracy demonstrations every year with large gatherings in its Victoria Park. However, in light of the recent introduction of new Chinese security legislation and against the backdrop of the coronavirus crisis, Hong Kong authorities have for the first time forbidden any large gatherings commemorating the event. Instead, those wanting to gather must do so at small venues. Although the authorities cite the potential health risk as the main reason for banning the event, the introduction of the new Chinese law "against sedition, subversion and separatism" has led many to fear that anything that the Chinese authorities deem to undermine it will be restricted. This includes the vigil in remembrance of the pro-democracy activists and students killed at Tienanmen Square in June 1989, any mention of which is banned on the mainland. 

Below is an article from the Washington Post

HONG KONG — Three decades after China massacred pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, almost 200,000 people filled Hong Kong's Victoria Park, holding candles in an annual commemoration that has come to symbolize the fragility of the city's freedoms from Beijing's encroachment.

But that was 2019, and that occasion is likely to go down as the last large-scale public remembrance of the massacre on Chinese soil.

This year, Hong Kong authorities banned the June 4 event for the first time, heralding the end of a ritual that for years demonstrated Hong Kong’s autonomy compared with mainland China, where official censors have scrubbed mentions of Tiananmen from textbooks and such commemorative displays are out of the question.

The vigil’s demise underscores the deterioration of political freedoms in Hong Kong as an assertive Communist Party moves to take full control of the financial center, notably through a far-reaching law against sedition, subversion and separatism that Beijing plans to implement within weeks.

“The existence of the candlelight vigil has always been a symbol to show that ‘one country, two systems’ still works,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, who chairs the group that organizes the commemoration, referring to the governance model that previously afforded Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy. “They have sent a very clear signal that ‘one country, two systems’ is over.”

China’s crackdown on June 4, 1989, followed weeks of demonstrations in Beijing and elsewhere as young people called for democracy. The Communist Party, having lost patience, ruthlessly suppressed the rallies, ordering the military to open fire on the crowds and leaving hundreds, perhaps thousands, dead.

This year’s anniversary comes as Hong Kong is caught in an increasingly bitter clash between China and the United States. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted a photo of himself meeting this week with Tiananmen survivors and activists.

On Monday, despite appeals from organizers, Hong Kong police refused to grant permission for the vigil, citing social distancing and public health measures still in place to manage the covid-19 outbreak. Organizers, however, noted that schools have reopened in Hong Kong; subways, supermarkets, bars and restaurants are once again packed, and large-scale religious gatherings are permitted as the city has largely contained the virus.

Thousands of riot police were deployed Thursday to enforce the ban on the vigil. Water cannons were readied into position near Victoria Park.

Organizers instead called on Hong Kong residents to light a candle wherever they may be to honor the Tiananmen victims, and nominated about a dozen gathering points where small groups could hold remembrances. Still, some planned to defy the ban and head to Victoria Park — which authorities moved to seal off with metal fences and barricades.

Last year, the crowd at Victoria Park was especially large, as people commemorated both the 30th anniversary of the massacre and asserted their own freedoms amid looming threats from China. At the time, an extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be tried in mainland China’s politicized courts was making its way through the legislature, and many saw the vigil as a peaceful way to push back against Beijing’s control more broadly.

A few days after last year’s vigil, hundreds of thousands gathered on the streets of Hong Kong to protest the extradition bill, kicking off eight months of massive demonstrations and sometimes violent unrest.

“Every time there’s a crisis in Hong Kong and more suppression, people will turn out,” said Lee, who also co-founded the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, a group that he fears will not exist once the national security law passes.

The vigil over the years has helped to build a protest culture in a city where people’s democratic avenues are limited. Parents often brought along their children. Still, the event had begun to lose appeal among some of the younger generation of democracy activists who favored more direct action to achieve their aims.

From tens of thousands of candle-holding attendees last year, to fenced-off venues and riot police this year, the clampdown has upset activists and victims of the massacre who continue to push for the Communist Party to acknowledge and admit to the incident.

Zhang Xianling, part of the Tiananmen Mothers group whose children were killed in Tiananmen Square in 1989, said in a video posted on YouTube that she felt deeply sorry about the ban on the Hong Kong vigil, but hoped that people will use different ways to mourn the victims and condemn the Communist Party’s “savage acts.”

Beijing’s proxies have signaled they won’t tolerate the vigil any longer. Leung Chun-ying, a former Hong Kong chief executive who is now a political adviser to Beijing, acknowledged recently that the vigil could be outlawed under the new national security law.


Photo: Pro-democracy activists at a commemoration on June 3, the eve of the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. Authorities have banned this year’s annual June 4 vigil that for years has drawn tens of thousands. Credit: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images.