Hong Kong, Jun 4 (EFE).- Hong Kong citizens have been banned from gathering to commemorate China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown for the third consecutive year, with authorities cordoning off the park where the world’s biggest commemoration of the historical event used to be held.
Police presence around Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island has been visible since Friday night, when main sections of the park were closed off until Sunday to prevent unauthorized public assemblies on the 33rd anniversary of the June 4 crackdown in 1989.
On Saturday afternoon, there was heavy police deployment at metro exits, on streets and outside a landmark shopping mall not far from the vast park. A number of passers-by clad in black were inspected by police. Some people taking pictures of the park from outside were urged by police to leave.
The fourth of June is the most politically sensitive day on the calendar in mainland China, where authorities typically go to great lengths to stop citizens from marking the day. Thirty-three years ago today, Chinese troops and tanks were deployed to suppress protesters in Beijing taking part in a nationwide pro-democracy movement. The death toll is estimated at hundreds to thousands.
That year, many people in British colonial Hong Kong supported the movement. For 30 years since 1990 without interruption, the city held a candlelight vigil in Victoria Park annually to commemorate victims of the bloody crackdown and to call for democracy in China.
Even after its sovereignty was handed over to China in 1997, Hong Kong had been able to host the landmark commemorative event by virtue of its semi autonomous status that sets it apart from the rest of mainland China. Participants varied from thousands to hundreds of thousands.
But in 2020 and 2021, Hong Kong police banned the vigil on the grounds of Covid-19. Some prominent activists who defied the ban and showed up in the park in 2021 were later jailed.
This year, police once again invoked health concerns over Covid-19, but also noted that some people used the social media to spread hate speech against the government and police, and incite people to go to Victoria Park to participate in unauthorized assemblies.
On June 3, police arrested a 59-year-old man who allegedly encouraged people to kill police. Then at nighttime, police took away a 31-year-old performance artist who cut a potato into the shape of a candle in an area not far from the park.
On Thursday, Hong Kong police warned people not to “test the boundaries” and that one risked breaking the law even if they went to the park alone but with “a common purpose to express certain views” with others who appeared in the same place, at the same time.
For the first time since 1990, no organization in Hong Kong applied with the authorities to host any commemorative event this year. A few months ago, the civil group that was a long-time organizer of the vigil disbanded under duress from the authorities. Many of its core members are now in jail for different reasons.
Catholic churches in the city also made the unprecedented decision this year to not hold an annual mass for Tiananmen victims.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong daily Ming Pao reported that the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s office in Hong Kong has warned Western consulates in the city not to take a stance on the June Fourth Incident.
But several consulates apparently defied the call via social media. The US consulate general quoted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken noting that the annual vigil was banned by Beijing and the Hong Kong government “in an attempt to suppress the memories of that day.”
The New Zealand consulate general posted on Facebook Saturday saying New Zealand is “deeply concerned by the loss of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong” to peaceful assembly commemorating June Fourth. EFE