For the second year in a row, Hong Kong police banned vigils in remembrance of the Chinese government’s deadly 1989 massacre of Tiananmen Square protesters. The ban on the vigils come a year after mainland China asserted new authority over the once semi-autonomous territory of Hong Kong.
The Associated Press reported Hong Kong Police closed off parts of Victoria Park, which has been the location of past Tiananmen Square vigils, held on June 4 about the anniversary of the deadly 1989 incident, which has come to be known as the Tiananmen Square massacre. Despite the ban, hundreds of people reportedly gathered in the park on Friday night, despite the risk of up to five years imprisonment for those caught and convicted of breaching the order.
In the days leading up to the anniversary, Hong Kong police even arrested a lone activist Alexandra Wong, known as “Grandman Wong.”
On May 30, one Twitter user tweeted, “HK Police arrest #GrandmaWong for ‘participating in unauthorized assembly’ ALONE today (May 30). Grandma Wong was alone when the police surrounded and took her away by a police vehicle near the police headquarters. #TiananmenMassacre #HongKongProtest #NationalSecurityLaw.”
The Guardian reported Wong, 65, has been a regular figure at past Hong Kong protests against expanded Chinese rule. She had been known to wave the United Kingdom’s Union Jack flag. The U.K. administered over Hong Kong through colonial rule until 1997, when it handed over the territory to mainland China under the understanding it would retain civil liberties not typically permitted in mainland China. Wong’s raising of the Union Jack has been seen as a sign of dissatisfaction with Chinese rule since 1997.
Wong’s arrest has been part of a larger effort to divert attention from the Tiananmen Square anniversary. The Washington Post reported police also arrested 36-year-old activist Chow Hang-Tung, who said she planned to hold a candle, alone, despite the ban on Tiananmen Square vigil events. A 20-year-old delivery man was also reportedly arrested for promoting the banned event.
On Friday, journalist Ryan Ho Kilpatrcik tweeted, “Hong Kong police preventing people from gathering in Victoria Park by gathering in Victoria Park.”
Despite the police efforts to stop protesters from entering the park, some did gather later in the day.
Journalist Phoebe Kong tweeted, “Hong Kong time 20:00, traditionally the time when the #June4 candlelight vigil started at Victoria Park: At least dozens switching on the light of their mobile phones at the gate of the now-sealed off venue. The light hasn’t been extinguished. #HongKong#TiananmenVigil.”
Journalist Linda Lew tweeted, “People wearing black still showed up tonight to Victoria Park, lighting up their phones and walking around the perimeter.”
Similar vigils were also shut down last year. This year, like last year, authorities cited COVID-19 coronavirus concerns and social distancing measures as the reason for banning. There have been no local COVID-19 cases reported in Hong Kong for about six weeks. This year’s ban also comes less than a year after the Chinese government enacted new national security laws in Hong Kong, banning broadly defined activities, such as “sedition,” “subversion” and “succession” against the Chinese government.
Mainland China, under the ruling Chinese Communist Party, has never allowed public events commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, in which some estimates say as many as 10,000 people were killed by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) tanks that plowed through crowds and PLA troops that fired upon civilians. The Chinese government’s internet censorship apparatus broadly censors all references to the deadly event. In China, fasting is considered one of the only way that this significant day can be remembered.
Radio Free Asia tweeted comparison photos of the decreased crowd sizes at Victoria Park over the last two years. Radio Free Asia said, “Hong Kong Victoria Park on June 4. Police arrested an organizer of Hong Kong’s annual candlelight vigil remembering the deadly Tiananmen Square crackdown and warned people not to attend the banned event Friday as authorities mute China’s last pro-democracy voices. Video: @AP.”
Despite the ban on candlelight vigils in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong placed light candles along its many windows on Friday, in an apparent show of solidarity to those commemorating the 1989 event.
Hong Kong Liberty, tweeted, “Candles lit near windows of United States Consulate General in #HongKong. We thank the United States and consulate staff for standing with humanity. Your support, friendship and solidarity will not be forgotten. #TiananmenSquareMassacre #6432truth #June4th.”
The European Union Office in Hong Kong and Macao also tweeted, “Today marks the 32nd anniversary of the #Tiananmen Square crackdown that took place on 4 June 1989. The European Union upholds universal human rights at home and calls for their respect across the world.”