Hong Kong authorities deployed a large number of police personnel on Saturday to enforce a ban on any vigil to commemorate the Tianenman Square Massacre that took place in Chinese capital Beijing on 3-4 June 1989 in which thousands of civilians were killed by Chinese soldiers.
The vigil at Hong Kong's Victoria Park was disallowed for the third consecutive year. For decades, Hong Kong and nearby Macao were the only places in China allowed to commemorate the Tianenman Square Massacre in which Chinese military suppressed student protesters demanding greater democracy.
The ban in Hong Kong is seen as part of a move to snuff out political dissent and a sign that Hong Kong is losing its freedoms as Beijing tightens its grip over the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
The vigil organisers, 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, which was imposed following massive pro-democracy protests in 2019.
Authorities have cited risks from the coronavirus for banning the public commemoration over the past three years. Critics say the pandemic is used as an excuse to infringe on the right to assemble.
A government statement on Friday said that parts of Victoria Park, which traditionally served as the venue for the candlelight vigil, will be closed as it may be used for "illegal activities". The move was to "prevent any unauthorised assemblies" in the park and to reduce the possibility of Covid-19 spread.
Earlier this 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 unauthorised assembly.
Despite the ban, some residents wore black in a silent show of support, and some even carried bouquets of flowers, held candles or turned on the flashlight on their cellphones. They were subjected searches and questioning by Chinese police and visuals surfaced on social media.
On the evening of June 3, performance artists commemorated the #June4 #TiananmenMassacre in Causeway Bay, #HongKong. One was arrested for failure to show ID to police upon demand. This is the second reported arrest of the June 4 season 2022 in HK. https://t.co/r8RtCNzbeF pic.twitter.com/ibewIqac1f— Hong Kong Democracy Council (@hkdc_us) June 3, 2022
"Today, this is to commemorate June 4th. Every year I have to do it," said Man Yuen, who appeared in a black t-shirt with the words "the people will not forget" while walking down the streets carrying an unlit candle.
Kelvin, a soft-spoken 21-year-old (not pictured), lit the light on his phone tonight.— Holmes Chan (@holmeschan_) June 4, 2022
He said his younger friends don't learn about Tiananmen in school anymore due to "brainwashing".
"They succeeded," he said, referring to the government. "But I find them pitiful." pic.twitter.com/hWP2k19Jqq
Police stopped and searched several people, some of whom were dressed in black. It is unclear if any arrests were made.
"I am disappointed because although no one organised any commemoration event, the authorities are already on high alert," said Donald Tam, who was shopping in the Causeway Bay district, where the park is located.
Since the British handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997, the city has been governed under a "one country, two systems" framework that promised it liberties not found on the mainland, including freedom of speech and assembly. It meant Hong Kong and nearby Macao, the other semi-autonomous territory, were allowed to commemorate the 1989 Tianenman Square Massacre. Elsewhere in China, keywords such as "Tiananmen Massacre" and "June 4" are strictly censored online, and people are not allowed to publicly mark the event.
While student leaders said around 3,400 people were killed, a telegram from the then-British ambassador to China Sir Alan Donald said 10,000 people were killed by the Chinese military. Tanks and armoured personnel carriers were used to run over people and to turn their corpses into "pie".
Sir Donald wrote, "Students linked arms but were mown down including soldiers. APCs [armoured personnel carriers] then ran over bodies time and time again to make 'pie' and remains collected by bulldozer. Remains incinerated and then hosed down drains. Four wounded girl students begged for their lives but were bayoneted."
The source of his information was someone passing on information given to him by a close friend who at the time was a member of the Chinese State Council, which would be the Chinese-equivalent of a cabinet in the United Kingdom or India.
Outside China, vigils were held to remember the Tiananmen victims.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said even though Chinese and Hong Kong authorities were attempting to suppress the memories of the crackdown, his government would continue to speak out and promote accountability on human rights abuses by China, including those in Hong Kong, against Muslim minorities in the western Xinjiang region as well as Tibet.
He said, "To the people of China and to those who continue to stand against injustice and seek freedom, we will not forget June 4."
The US Consulate in Hong Kong lit candles in the windows of the building.
In Taiwan, a self-ruled island claimed by Beijing as part of its territory, hundreds took part in the vigil. The Foreign Ministry wrote on Facebook 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".
Taiwan democracy activist Lee Ming-che said, "Taiwan has been commemorating the June 4 massacre before Hong Kong did, and each place (in the rest of the world) that holds this event interprets it in its own ways. We must be aware of China's threats and protect Taiwan's values of democracy, human rights, and freedom."
Graduate student Joanna Chen said that commemorating the June 4 massacre is important because Taiwan is one of the few places in Greater China to commemorate such an event publicly.
"We must remind the Taiwanese people that democracy should not be taken for granted," she said.
In Sydney, about 50 pro-democracy supporters lit candles outside the Chinese Consulate to mark the massacre, as several police officers kept watch.
In the Indian city of Dharmshala, home to Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, activists organised a street theater to mark the Tiananmen anniversary. They used a cutout of a Chinese tank to recreate the "tank man", an iconic image taken by The Associated Press of a protester standing in front of a tank, which came to symbolise courage in the face of Chinese government's crackdown of the protest.
Can’t think of a better way to overcome China’s state-induced collective amnesia on the Tiananmen massacre than to make #TiananmenSquare trend on Twitter today, on its 32nd anniversary.— Melissa Chen (@MsMelChen) June 4, 2021
Tank Man’s futile defiance endures as symbolic of the yearning of the human soul to be free. pic.twitter.com/TwWCywKrrB
For the first time in 30 years, Hong Kong's Catholic churches also skipped Mass for the Tiananmen victims, after the diocese expressed concerns that such events could violate the national security law.
Authorities have been using the law to crack down on the opposition, with over 150 people arrested on suspicion of offences that include subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion to intervene in the city's affairs.
The clampdown has included universities as well. In December 2021, a sculpture called "Pillar of Shame", which depicts torn and twisted bodies symbolising the lives lost during the Tianenman Square Massacre, was taken down at the University of Hong Kong. Officials said that no approval had been obtained to display the sculpture.
A day later, two other universities in the city removed monuments related to the commemoration.
In response, Jens Galschioet, the artist who created "Pillar of Shame", last week unveiled a full-scale replica of the 8-meter-tall sculpture at the University of Oslo in Norway.
(With AP inputs)