Huge police deployment prevents Tiananmen vigil in Hong Kong
Shortly before 8 p.m., the time at which the night vigil traditionally began, a young woman dressed in black approached the zebra crossing that leads to the entrance of Hong Kong’s Victoria Park. Without a word, she took the cell phone from her and turned on the flashlight. In a matter of seconds, up to a dozen policemen surrounded her and took her behind the wall of agents guarding the premises. There, she was interrogated and searched for a long time before ordering him to leave without making a fuss or end up in the police station.
This Saturday, the tide of policemen who guarded the park and its surroundings worked hard to prevent any act of remembrance for the victims of the Tiananmen massacre in Beijing in 1989. Their massive presence and the expeditiousness of their actions achieved their objective. Even so, a handful of citizens like the aforementioned young woman carried out small symbolic acts of defiance, such as walking with electric candles or the light of the mobile phone on, carrying white flowers -the color of mourning in Asia- in the backpack or putting on masks with an X imprinted in the mouth
Until 2019, Hong Kong’s Victoria Park was filled every June 4 with tens of thousands of candles and flowers to honor the victims who fell near the Beijing square 33 years ago. It was the only public act in memory of that tragedy on Chinese soil, which was celebrated thanks to the special status of the city: first as a British colony and, as of 1997, for the rights granted by the principle of ‘one country two systems’ for which he returned under Chinese sovereignty.
However, in 2020 and 2021, the police prohibited the assembly with the argument of avoiding contagion, although at that time there were hardly any cases. The first year, thousands of people defied the ban and sneaked into the esplanade, which led to prison the most visible faces (case of the young activist Joshua Wong). Last summer, the extensive police deployment prevented similar scenes, although there was a large group of people who gathered nearby to chant slogans and turn on lights before being dispersed.
This year, police again invoked Covid “health concerns” to cancel the event and warned residents they risked being charged with participating in an unauthorized assembly if they approached the area. If a person goes to the compound alone, but “shares a common goal of expressing certain calls jointly with others in their vicinity, that is enough to constitute an illegal assembly,” Hong Kong police chief Liauw Ka Kai said in previous days. .
The fear of transgressing the controversial National Security law that Beijing imposed on the territory in 2020 has put fear in the body of pro-democratic groups and others. Following the arrest last month of 90-year-old Cardinal Joshep Zen (now out on bail), the Hong Kong Catholic Church announced that for the first time in 33 years they will not hold masses to commemorate the tragedy. There were also no great acts or offerings at local universities, where in recent months they have dismantled all the monuments that for years remembered what happened.
300 are calculated
The Chinese government has never revealed the exact number of dead
Although the name of Tiananmen has been linked to ignominy, the truth is that the majority of protesters who died at the hands of Chinese soldiers that night of June 3 to 4, 1989 were registered on the nearby Muxidi bridge and the adjacent streets. The Chinese government has never revealed the exact number of dead, but the most reliable calculations speak of between 300 and a thousand. The authorities argue that the development achieved by the country in recent decades confirms that the orders given to the troops were the correct decision.
Since then, the Chinese government has perpetuated one of the greatest acts of collective amnesia in living memory. During these days, any commemoration is prohibited, press access to the square is closed and censorship works overtime to eradicate any mention of the event. Around this date, surveillance of groups as committed as the Tiananmen Mothers or human rights activists also increases, forcing them not to leave their homes or to travel to distant places where they continue to be controlled.
“For 33 years, we have claimed the three demands – truth, compensation and accountability – in a peaceful and rational manner, asking for a dialogue with the Government through a legal process to resolve the issues related to the massacre of June 4. We appeal to your conscience on behalf of the families of the dead,” the Tiananmen Mothers said this week in an open letter signed by 120 of their members.
Outside China, the ritual of past years has also been carried out, which includes acts of remembrance and calls by some governments for China to reveal the whole truth and admit its mistakes. These demands are not liked in Beijing, from where they usually respond firmly.
From Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised that the efforts of the “brave” killed in Beijing “will not be forgotten.” “Today, the fight for democracy and freedom continues to resonate in Hong Kong, where the annual vigil to commemorate the Tiananmen massacre has been banned (…) in order to erase the memory of that day,” he added.
For their part, hundreds of people gathered in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, to commemorate the massacre around a replica of the Pillar of Shame, a statue that until last Christmas was on the campus of the University of Hong Kong. “It’s a symbol of how democracy is valuable and fragile at the same time, and how people who care about democracy must defend it, or else authoritarians around the world will think that people don’t care.” noted its author, Jeremy Chiang.