Thousands of Hong Kong nationals braved the ban on Thursday to mark the 31st anniversary of Tiananmen’s bloody crackdown on vigils in several areas marked by arrests amid tensions over Beijing’s influence over the city.
For the first time in 30 years, police have failed to authorize the traditional tribute to the victims held annually in Victoria Park, citing restrictions related to the coronavirus.
The police also announced that they had made arrests in an attempt to break up a rally in a commercial district of the city, Mongkok, where they accused “black-dressed protesters” of having blocked roads.
In Victoria Park, some demonstrators had removed the barriers that had been installed around this large green space on the island of Hong Kong, which allowed an ever larger crowd to come and darken the football fields chanting slogans of the pro-democracy movement.
“It’s been 30 years since I come every year for the vigil in memory of the victims of the repression of June 4, but this year, it is even more important,” a 74-year-old man told AFP call Yip.
“Because Hong Kong is experiencing the same kind of repression by the same regime, like what happened in Beijing,” he added.
Many wore a black t-shirt with the inscription “Truth” in white. “Stand up for Hong Kong,” protested, when others waved flags for independence.
Deployed near the park, the police did not intervene.
And around 8 p.m. (8 a.m. in Quebec), everyone lit candles in Victoria Park, as in many neighborhoods of a territory that experienced its worst political crisis in 2019 since its handover in 1997.
Hong Kong lived from June to December to the rhythm of almost daily demonstrations and actions, and sometimes violent, to denounce the growing interference from China. And many residents are now worried about a very firm takeover by the central communist power.
New illustration of political tensions, the Legislative Council (LegCo), the Hong Kong Parliament, finally adopted Thursday afternoon in stormy conditions a very controversial text criminalizing any contempt for the Chinese national anthem.
Elected members of the pro-democracy opposition refused to participate in this lost vote, and one of them even poured a foul mixture of liquid fertilizer into the room to disrupt the session.
Opponents of the text see it as the latest attempt by Beijing to trump local liberties theoretically guaranteed until 2047 by the retrocession agreement. And the fact that it was voted on Tiananmen’s Anniversary Day only increased their excitement.
Taboo in China
The bloody intervention of the Chinese army on the night of June 3-4, 1989 ended seven weeks of student and worker protests against corruption and for democracy in China. The repression had left between several hundred and more than a thousand dead.
The subject is taboo in China. An AFP photographer was arrested by police on Thursday morning in Beijing, who forced him to erase most of his photos while driving near Tiananmen.
It’s been 30 years since a vigil has drawn crowds to Hong Kong, the only place in the country where the event is commemorated, which illustrates the unique freedoms enjoyed by the autonomous territory, which returned to the Chinese fold in 1997.
But for the first time in three decades, the vigil was not authorized by the police, who cited the risks associated with COVID-19, as gatherings of more than eight people were banned.
In exchange, the organizers had called on residents to light candles where they were. Across the city, stalls had been set up to distribute candles to those returning from work.
“I don’t think it’s because of the pandemic. This is political repression, “Wong, a 53-year-old man who refused to give his full identity after kneeling near the Park in tribute to the AFP, told AFP that day. “I am afraid that this vigil will never take place again. “
Last year, the 30th anniversary vigil had already taken place in a tense political context: the pro-Beijing Hong Kong executive was trying to impose authorization for extraditions to mainland China.
A week later, seven months of almost daily protests began in the financial metropolis.
In response to this movement, Beijing has just announced its intention to impose a national security law in Hong Kong, which plans to punish separatist, “terrorist” activities, subversion, and foreign interference in the territory.
Many Hong Kongers and many Western capitals fear that this reform is the prelude to a wave of political repression and signals the end of semi-autonomy.
Washington, like every year, hailed the memory of the victims. American Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo tweeted a photo of him with four figures from the Tiananmen movement.
Asked about the crackdown, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Wednesday that the Chinese authorities had “already reached a clear conclusion on the political unrest that occurred in the late 1980s”.
“The great achievements of New China in the past 70 years have fully demonstrated that the path of development chosen by China is entirely correct,” said Zhao Lijian.