Sunday, November 27, 2022

Hong Kong vigil organiser arrested on Tiananmen anniversary

By PTI Updated: Jun 04, 2021 7:25 pm
Hong Kong: University students clean the “Pillar of Shame” statue, a memorial for those killed in the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, at the University of Hong Kong, Friday, June 4, 2021. Police arrested an organizer of Hong Kong’s annual candlelight vigil remembering the deadly Tiananmen Square crackdown and warned people not to attend the banned event Friday as authorities mute China’s last pro-democracy voices. AP/PTI

Hong Kong, June 4 (PTI/AP): Police arrested an organiser of Hong Kong’s annual candlelight vigil remembering the deadly crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, warned people not to attend the banned event and cordoned off parts of the venue Friday as authorities mute China’s last pro-democracy voices.

In past years, tens of thousands of people gathered in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to honour those who died when China’s military put down student-led pro-democracy protests on June 4, 1989. Hundreds, if not thousands, were killed.

China’s ruling Communist Party has never allowed public events on the mainland to mark the anniversary and security was increased at the Beijing square, with police checking pedestrians’ IDs as tour buses shuttled Chinese tourists in and out.

Chinese officials say the country’s rapid economic development in the years since what they call the political turmoil of 1989 proves that decisions made at the time were correct.

Efforts to suppress public memory of the Tiananmen events have lately turned to Hong Kong. A temporary June 4 museum closed after a visit from authorities earlier this week and police then detained the vice chair of the Hong Kong Alliance, a group that organises both the museum and the vigil, on Friday morning.

This combination of images between 1997 and 2021 shows thousands of people attend a June 4th candlelight vigil in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to mark the anniversary of the military crackdown on a pro-democracy student movement in Beijing, except for this year at bottom right. Hong Kong is the only region under Beijing’s jurisdiction that holds significant public commemorations of the 1989 crackdown and memorials for its victims. Hong Kong has a degree of freedom not seen on the mainland as a legacy of British rule that ended in 1997. Top row from left are 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001. Second row from left are 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Third row from left are 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. Fourth row from left are 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Bottom row from left are 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. AP/PTI

The nighttime event in Victoria Park has been banned for a second year under coronavirus pandemic restrictions, although the city has had no local cases for over six weeks. The move came amid sweeping moves to quell dissent in the city, including a new national security law, election system changes and the arrest of many activists who participated in pro-democracy protests that swept Hong Kong in 2019.

Hong Kong police cordoned off parts of the park, including football fields and basketball courts, to try to prevent any gatherings. Police said they were aware of calls on social media urging people to turn up for the vigil.

Police appeal to members of the public to refrain from participating in, advertising or publicising any unauthorised assemblies and prohibited gatherings, a government statement said.

At the University of Hong Kong, students took part in an annual washing of the Pillar of Shame sculpture, which was erected to remember the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown. Charles Kwok, the president of the students’ union, said the event was legal.

In cleaning the Pillar of Shame, we shall learn how our predecessors defended the freedom of expression before, and we shall not easily give up, Kwok said.

Law Kwok-hoi, police senior superintendent, told reporters police arrested a 36-year-old woman from the Hong Kong Alliance, as well as a 20-year-old food delivery man, for advertising and publicising an unauthorised assembly on their social media accounts even after the vigil was banned.

Taking part in an illegal gathering carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, while promoting such an event can result in a year in jail.

Police, following customary practice, did not name those arrested, but the Hong Kong Alliance confirmed that its vice chair, Chow Hang Tung, was the woman who had been picked up. After the ban was issued, Chow urged people to commemorate the event privately by lighting a candle wherever they are.

Last year, thousands went to Victoria Park despite the ban to light candles and sing songs. Police later charged more than 20 activists including Chow for participating in the event.

Two other key members of the Hong Kong Alliance Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho are behind bars for joining unauthorized assemblies during the 2019 protests.

Chow, a lawyer, said in an earlier interview with The Associated Press that she expected to be jailed.

I’m already being persecuted for participating and inciting last year’s candlelight vigil, she said. If I continue my activism in pushing for democracy in Hong Kong and China, surely they will come after me at some point, so it’s sort of expected.

As Chinese authorities seek to curb remembrances, they seem confident the passage of time will erase memories of Tiananmen.

The government made no response to an appeal from Tiananmen Mothers, published on the Human Rights in China website, urging the party to release official records about the crackdown, provide compensation for those killed and injured, and hold those responsible to account.

Tiananmen Mothers said many young Chinese have grown up in a false sense of prosperous jubilance and enforced glorification of the government (and) have no idea of or refuse to believe what happened on June 4, 1989 .

The suppression of the Tiananmen commemorations has been accompanied in recent years by harsh repression of religious and ethnic minorities in Tibet, the northwestern region of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, along with the sharp curtailing of political rights in Hong Kong.

China’s authoritarian regime has used another kind of force enforced amnesia in its attempts to bury the truth of the brutal crimes it committed against its people, Human Rights in China said in a statement.

In self-governing Taiwan, activists who host an annual Tiananmen memorial moved mostly online as the island faces its worst outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. A temporary memorial pavilion was set up in Taipei for people in small groups to leave flowers and other mementoes.

The US State Department issued a statement of support for those advocating for victims and pursuing the truth.

We must never stop seeking transparency on the events of that day, including a full accounting of all those killed, detained, or missing, the statement said, adding that such demands echo the struggle for political rights in Hong Kong.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin denounced the statement as interference in China’s internal affairs and said the US should first look at itself in a mirror and reflect on its own poor record in human rights”.

In what position can the US lecture others on human rights?” he said, citing the 1921 massacre of Black residents in Tulsa, Oklahoma, discrimination against minorities and US actions in the Middle East.

By PTI Updated: Jun 04, 2021 7:25:22 pm