HONG KONG — Dozens of police patrolled Hong Kong’s Victoria Park on Saturday after authorities banned public commemoration of the anniversary of the deadly 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown for the third consecutive year.
For decades, an annual candlelight vigil has been held in the park to remember the violent crackdown by army troops on student protesters demanding greater democracy in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Hundreds , even thousands, were killed.
The ban is seen as part of a move to stifle political dissent and a sign that Hong Kong is losing its freedoms as Beijing tightens its grip on the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
The vigil’s organizers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of China’s Patriotic Democratic Movements, disbanded last year after several of its leaders were arrested on suspicion of violating national security law , which was imposed following massive pro-democracy protests in 2019.
Authorities have cited coronavirus risks for banning public commemoration for the past three years. Critics say the pandemic is being used as an excuse to breach the right to assemble.
A government statement said on Friday that parts of Victoria Park, which have traditionally served as a venue for the candlelight vigil, will be closed as they may be used for “illegal activities”. The decision was intended to “prevent any unauthorized gatherings” in the park and reduce the possibility of the spread of COVID-19.
Earlier in the week, a police commissioner warned that anyone who gathered in a group “in the same place, at the same time and for the common purpose of expressing certain opinions” could be considered part of an unauthorized assembly.
Since the British ceded Hong Kong to China in 1997, the city has been governed under a “one country, two systems” framework that grants it freedoms not found on the mainland, including freedom of speech and assembly.
For years, Hong Kong and Macau were the only places on Chinese soil allowed to commemorate the Tiananmen crackdown. In China, keywords such as “Tiananmen massacre” and “June 4” are strictly censored online, and people are not allowed to publicly tag the events.
Hong Kong’s crackdown on the Tiananmen commemorations has drawn international criticism.
“Today, the struggle for democracy and freedom continues to echo in Hong Kong, where the annual vigil to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre was banned by the PRC and Hong Kong authorities in a bid to suppress memories of that day,” the US Secretary said. of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
Blinken said the United States would continue to speak out and promote accountability for China’s human rights abuses, including those in Hong Kong, against Muslim minorities in the western Xinjiang region as well as in Tibet.
“To the Chinese people and those who continue to stand against injustice and seek freedom, we will not forget June 4,” he said.
The Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote on its Facebook page that “when this time of year comes around, there are many things you cannot say, many things you cannot write and many ‘you can’t even search the internet.’
The post encouraged Chinese citizens who use a VPN to access Facebook, which is blocked in China, and search for information about the Tiananmen Square massacre “to see what their country is hiding from them.”
“We hope that the individual will no longer be sacrificed for the party, and that freedom, democracy and human rights can become our common language with them,” the ministry post said.
Amid the ban on events in Hong Kong, overseas gatherings and seminars in the United States, Taipei, Prague and elsewhere have taken on greater prominence, with online calls encouraging people to attend.
In recent years, institutions including universities have also removed sculptures and artworks that mark the Tiananmen Massacre to comply with a harsh national security law that Beijing imposed on the city in June 2020.
Authorities have used the law to suppress opposition, with more than 150 people arrested on suspicion of offenses including subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion to interfere in city affairs.
In December 2021, a sculpture called “Pillar of Shame”, which depicts torn and twisted bodies symbolizing the lives lost in the massacre, was dismantled at the University of Hong Kong. Officials said no approval had been obtained to display the sculpture.
A day later, two other universities in the city removed monuments related to the Tiananmen Massacre commemoration, citing similar reasons as well as legal issues.
Last week, Jens Galschiøt, the artist who created “Pillar of Shame”, unveiled a life-size replica of the 8-meter (26-foot) tall sculpture at the University of Oslo in Norway.
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