Hong Kong marks Tiananmen crackdown despite virus vigil ban

A pro-democracy activist is escorted by police after raising a placard in commemoration of Tiananmen square, outside China's embassy in Seoul on June 4, 2020. (Photo: AFP)
  • Agence France-Presse
  • June 4, 2020 4:53 AM

China | HongKong | Hong Kong marked China's deadly Tiananmen crackdown on Thursday, with candle-light ceremonies set for the evening across the city after authorities banned a mass vigil at a time of seething anger over a planned new security law.

Open discussion of the brutal suppression is forbidden in mainland China, where hundreds -- by some estimates more than a thousand -- died when the Communist Party sent tanks on June 4, 1989 to crush a student-led demonstration in Beijing calling for democratic reforms.

But the people of semi-autonomous Hong Kong have kept memories alive for the past three decades by holding a huge annual vigil, the only part of China where such mass displays of remembrance are possible.

This year's service was banned on public health grounds because of the coronavirus pandemic, with authorities not allowing people to gather in groups of more than eight.

Barricades surrounded the park on Thursday that has traditionally hosted the annual ceremony. 

Organisers have urged residents to skirt the ban by instead lighting candles at 8:00 pm (1200 GMT) wherever they happen to be.

With Beijing planning to impose a new national security law on the finance hub that many believe will end the city's unique freedoms, some residents on Thursday said they feared future memorials would also be blocked.

"I don't believe it's because of the pandemic. I think it's political suppression," said a man surnamed Wong, 53, who kneeled by the barricades outside Victoria Park to pay his respects to the dead before travelling to work. 

"I do worry that we may lose this vigil forever."

Crowds have swelled at Hong Kong's Tiananmen vigils whenever fears have spiked that Beijing is prematurely stamping out the city's own cherished freedoms, an issue that has dominated the finance hub for the past 12 months.

The city was engulfed by seven straight months of huge and often violent pro-democracy protests last year -- rallies that kicked off five days after the last annual vigil.

- Security and anthem laws -

In response to those protests last month Beijing announced plans to impose the security law, which would cover secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and foreign interference.

China says the law -- which will bypass Hong Kong's legislature -- is needed to tackle "terrorism" and "separatism" in a restless city it now regards as a direct national security threat.

But opponents, including many Western nations, fear it will bring mainland-style political oppression to a business hub that was supposedly guaranteed freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after its 1997 handover to China from Britain.

Further inflaming tensions, China has been pushing for another law that would punish insults towards China's national anthem with up t three years in jail.

Hong Kong's lawmakers are expected to vote on the anthem bill on Thursday.

With the Victoria Park vigil banned, Hong Kongers are organising locally and getting creative, chiefly with the scattered candle-light ceremonies.

Online groups have sent out maps and lists of more than a dozen districts calling for people to gather for small vigils.

Seven Catholic churches have also announced plans to host a commemorative mass on Thursday evening.

Riot police have moved swiftly against protests forming in recent weeks, citing the coronavirus measures and arresting hundreds of people.

Vigils are also planned in neighbouring Taiwan and among the Chinese diaspora in many western countries. 

But in mainland China, the crackdown is greeted by an information blackout, with censors scrubbing mentions of protests and dissidents often visited by police in the days leading up to June 4.

Police in Beijing prevented an AFP photographer from entering Tiananmen Square to record the regular pre-dawn flag-raising ceremony on Thursday. 

The candle emoji has been unavailable in recent days on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform.

On Wednesday, China's foreign ministry described calls by Taiwan for Beijing to apologise for the crackdown as "complete nonsense". 

"The great achievements since the founding of new China over the past 70 or so years fully demonstrates that the developmental path China has chosen is completely correct," spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters. 

© Agence France-Presse


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