Police patrol Hong Kong park amid Tiananmen vigil ban

Dozens of police officers are patrolling Hong Kong’s Victoria Park after authorities for a third consecutive year banned public commemoration of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989

Via AP news wire
Saturday 04 June 2022 06:49 BST

Dozens of police officers patrolled Hong Kong’s Victoria Park on Saturday after authorities for a third consecutive year banned public commemoration of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.

For decades, an annual candlelight vigil would be held in the park to remember China’s deadly crackdown on protesters demanding greater democracy in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

The vigil organizers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, disbanded last year after many of its leaders were arrested on suspicion of violating the national security law.

Authorities have cited risks from the coronavirus for banning the public commemoration over the past three years.

A government statement Friday said that parts of Victoria Park, which traditionally served as the venue for the candlelight vigil, would be partially closed as it may be used for “illegal activities.” The move was to “prevent any unauthorized assemblies” in the park and to reduce the possibility of COVID-19 spread.

Earlier in the week, a police superintendent warned that anyone who gathered in a group “at the same place, with the same time and with a common purpose to express certain views” could be considered part of an unauthorized assembly.

Critics say the ban on the annual commemoration activities is part of a crackdown on political dissent and a sign that Hong Kong is losing its freedoms as Beijing tightens its grip over the semi-autonomous Chinese city. They also say that authorities are using the pandemic as an excuse to infringe on their right to assemble.

Since the British handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997, the city has been governed under a “one country, two systems” framework that gives it freedoms not found on the mainland, including freedom of speech and assembly.

For years, Hong Kong and Macao were the only places on Chinese soil allowed to commemorate the Tiananmen massacre. In China, keywords such as “Tiananmen massacre” and “June 4” are strictly censored online, and people are not allowed to publicly mark the events.

In December 2021, an iconic sculpture called “Pillar of Shame," which depicts torn and twisted bodies that symbolize the lives lost during the massacre, was taken down at the University of Hong Kong, with officials saying that no approval had been obtained to display the sculpture there.

Last week, Jens Galschiøt, the artist who created “Pillar of Shame,” unveiled a full-scale replica of the 8-meter- (26 foot) tall sculpture at the University of Oslo in Norway.

Amid the ban on commemoration events in Hong Kong, overseas gatherings and seminars in the United States, Taipei, Prague and elsewhere have taken on larger significance.

“Today, the struggle for democracy and freedom continues to echo in Hong Kong, where the annual vigil to commemorate the massacre in Tiananmen Square was banned by the PRC and Hong Kong authorities in an attempt to suppress the memories of that day,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, referring to the People's Republic of China.

Blinken said the U.S. would continue to speak out and promote accountability on human rights abuses by China, including those in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet.

“To the people of China and to those who continue to stand against injustice and seek freedom, we will not forget June 4,” he said.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry wrote on its Facebook page that “when this time of year comes around, there is a lot one can’t say, a lot one can’t write, and a lot one can’t even look up on the internet.”

The post encouraged Chinese citizens who use a VPN to access Facebook, which is blocked in China, and search for information on the Tiananmen Square massacre “to see what their country is hiding from them.”

“We hope that no more will be the individual be sacrificed for the party, and that freedom, democracy and human rights can become our common language with them,” the ministry's post said.

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