Hong Kong Police detained a pro-democracy leader, as authorities seek to prevent any public commemoration of the anniversary of China’s deadly crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Some 7,000 police officers stood by after the government banned the vigil that has been held every June 4 for decades as a special date for the city’s pro-democracy movement. The first arrest occurred on Friday morning when Chow Hang-tung she was detained by four police officers in front of her office in the Central district.
Chow, 37, is one of the Vice Presidents of the Hong Kong Alliance, who organizes the annual vigil. Police confirmed that two people, Chow and a 20-year-old man, were detained on suspicion of promoting an illegal gathering on social media. “His comments on social media involved promoting and calling on others to participate in prohibited public activities,” Police Superintendent Law Kwok-hoi told reporters.
Large crowds often congregate in Hong Kong to mark the anniversary of the repression against pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, where hundreds were killed and some estimate 1,000 casualties. Under the “one China, two systems” policy that grants Hong Kong greater freedoms, the ex-british colony it was the only part of the Chinese territory where large demonstrations were allowed for the date.
Hong Kong’s main events were held in Victoria Park, with vigils to remember the victims of the massacre and call on China to accept democracy. But this year’s vigil was banned by the Hong Kong authorities because of the coronavirus pandemic, despite the fact that the city has not registered cases of local transmission of unknown origin in more than a month. Although the vigil for the pandemic was also banned last year, thousands of people challenged the ban.
However, much has changed in Hong Kong in the last year, in which the police began using a drastic national security law to go after the pro-democracy movement. Authorities warned that the subversion clause contained in the law could be used against protesters by Tiananmen. The threat of mass arrests forced many of those who would normally participate in the vigil to think creatively. For this reason, some activists asked the population light candles in their houses and neighborhoods on Friday night, or post commemorative messages on their social networks.
“A regime can prohibit a meeting, but it cannot prohibit the pain in people’s hearts,” wrote the jailed activist Lee Cheuk-yan, in a message posted on Facebook. “I hope everyone finds some way to light a candle in the window, on the road, where it can be seen by others,” he added.
Clara Cheung was part of a small group of artists who gathered Thursday afternoon in Victoria Park, where she brought 64 white flowers that she placed on the street. “We must find new ways to express ourselves,” he told AFP. Like many Tiananmen survivors who fled abroad three decades ago, many figures in the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement they opted for self-exile and they plan to commemorate abroad. Vigils are planned in cities like Tokyo, Sydney, Taipei, London, Berlin, and Washington.
The US government greeted the victims of the massacre in a statement, in which it asked China for “transparency” about the events. He also said that he will stand “with the Chinese people in their demand that the government respect universal human rights.” In mainland China, the Tiananmen anniversary is often marked by a dramatic increase in internet censorship, while the square in Beijing remains isolated.
The legislation transformed the political landscape of the city and led to the arrest of more than 100 people, mostly for their political opinions. Most detainees are denied bail and face life prison sentences if convicted. The legislation has been combined with a new campaign called “Patriots rule Hong Kong,” aimed at purging anyone who is deemed disloyal from public service. According to China, the measures have restored stability in the city. Critics, including several Western governments, say the crackdown broke Beijing’s promise that Hong Kong would maintain its freedoms after Britain returned the territory to China in 1997.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism