Hundreds show up around Hong Kong park despite Tiananmen Square vigil ban
Hong Kong police banned the vigil for a second straight year, citing coronavirus social distancing restrictions, although there have been no local cases in the semi-autonomous Chinese city for more than six weeks.
Police closed off large parts of Victoria Park – the venue of past vigils – in the city’s popular Causeway Bay shopping district and warned people not to participate in unauthorised assemblies, which carry a penalty of up to five years in jail.
Despite the ban and a heavy police presence, hundreds of people still turned up on Friday night to walk along the perimeter of the park. At 8pm, many turned on the flashlights on their smartphones while others lit candles in remembrance of those who lost their lives when China’s military put down student-led pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Hundreds, if not thousands, were killed in the crackdown.
In past years, tens of thousands of people have gathered in Victoria Park to honour the dead. Last year, thousands attended despite the ban to light candles and sing songs. Police later charged more than 20 activists with participating in the event.
China’s ruling Communist Party has never allowed public events on the mainland to mark the anniversary and 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. Apart from the vigil ban, a temporary June 4 museum closed after a visit from authorities earlier this week.
The efforts come 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 across Hong Kong in 2019.
Earlier on Friday, police arrested Chow Hang Tung, a vice chairwoman of the Hong Kong Alliance which organised Hong Kong’s annual candlelight vigil, the group said.
Although police did not identify Ms Chow, they said they arrested a 36-year-old woman from the Hong Kong Alliance as she was advertising and publicising an unauthorised assembly via social media despite the police ban on the vigil.
After the ban was issued, Ms Chow urged people to commemorate the event privately by lighting a candle wherever they are.
Ms Chow, a lawyer, said in an earlier interview with The Associated Press 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.”