Hong Kong: Police have arrested an organiser of Hong Kong’s annual candlelight vigil remembering the deadly crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. They have warned people not to attend the banned event and cordoned off parts of the venue Friday as authorities mute China’s last pro-democracy voices.
In past years, tens of thousands of people gathered at the Victoria Park here to honour those who died when China’s military put down student-led pro-democracy protests June 4, 1989. Hundreds, if not thousands, were killed. The death figures are still a mystery as China has never come out in the open with facts.
China’s ruling Communist Party has never allowed public events on the mainland to mark the anniversary. Security was increased at the Beijing square, with police checking pedestrians’ IDs as tour buses shuttled Chinese tourists in and out.
Chinese officials say 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 were correct.
Efforts to suppress public memory of the Tiananmen events have lately turned to Hong Kong. A temporary June 4 museum closed after a visit from authorities earlier this week and police then detained the vice- chair of the Hong Kong Alliance, a group that organises both the museum and the vigil, Friday morning.
The night-time event in Victoria Park has been banned for a second year under the coronavirus pandemic restrictions. However, the city has had no local cases for over six weeks. The move came amid sweeping moves to quell dissent in the city, including a new national security law, election system changes and the arrest of many activists who participated in pro-democracy protests that swept Hong Kong in 2019.
Hong Kong police cordoned off parts of the park, including football fields and basketball courts, to try to prevent any gatherings. Police said they were aware of calls on social media urging people to turn up for the vigil.
“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.
At the University of Hong Kong, students took part in an annual washing of the ‘Pillar of Shame’ sculpture, which was erected to remember the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown. Charles Kwok, the president of the students’ union, said the event was legal.
“In cleaning the Pillar of Shame, we shall learn how our predecessors defended the freedom of expression before, and we shall not easily give up,” Kwok said.
Law Kwok-hoi, police senior superintendent, told reporters they have 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.
Taking part in an illegal gathering carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, while promoting such an event can result in a year in jail.
Police, following customary practice, did not name those arrested. However, Hong Kong Alliance confirmed that its vice-chair, Chow Hang Tung, was the woman who had been picked up. After the ban was issued, Chow urged people to commemorate the event privately by lighting a candle wherever they are.
Last year, thousands went to Victoria Park despite the ban to light candles and sing songs. Police later charged more than 20 activists including Chow for participating 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 during the 2019 protests. Chow, a lawyer, said in an earlier interview with this agency that she expected to be jailed.
“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,” Chow added.