HK hides Tiananmen memories on anniversary

(UPDATE) HONG KONG authorities on Saturday scrambled to halt all public commemoration of the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, with police warning that gatherings could break the law as Beijing attempts to suppress all reminders of the June 4 events.

On this day in 1989, the government sent in troops and tanks to break up peaceful protests, crushing a week-long wave of protests calling for political change and an end to official corruption. Hundreds, by some estimates over 1,000, have been killed in the crackdown.

People hold candles during a vigil to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Sqiuare Massacre at the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, DC on June 3, 2022. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP)

Discussing what happened is highly sensitive for Chinese communist leaders and is virtually forbidden on the mainland.

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong was the only place in China where large-scale remembrance was still tolerated – until two years ago, when Beijing imposed a national security law to stifle dissent after huge pro-demonstrations -democracy in 2019.

Authorities warned the public on Friday that “participating in an unauthorized gathering” could face a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

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They also closed large parts of Victoria Park, once the site of crowded annual candlelight vigils attended by tens of thousands of people.

A woman told Agence France-Presse that she lit a candle at home instead and placed a replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue, the original of which stood in Tiananmen Square in 1989, on his window sill.

“For me and many Hong Kongers of my generation, June 4 was our political enlightenment,” said the 49-year-old public relations professional, who was volunteering with the organizers of the vigil.

On Saturday, she said she would walk around town wearing a t-shirt with June 4 numbers as a more “subtle” form of commemoration, given the legal risks.

Enhanced security

China has gone to great lengths to erase the crackdown from collective memory, omitting it from history textbooks and removing references to it from the Chinese internet and social media platforms.

On Saturday, authorities in Beijing had installed facial recognition devices on the roads leading to Tiananmen Square and stopped passers-by to verify their identity.

The security presence in the area has been significantly increased, with two to three times the regular number of officers visible.

Also in Hong Kong, the area around Victoria Park was heavily patrolled, with long lines of security vehicles parked alongside.

In the bustling shopping district of nearby Causeway Bay on Friday night, a performance artist who carved a potato into the shape of a candle and held a lighter to it was surrounded by more than a dozen officers and led into a police van, an AFP reporter saw.

Police later said they arrested a 31-year-old woman for “disorderly conduct in a public place”.

“The government is so afraid of any possible gathering,” said Dorothy, a 32-year-old coach who spoke to AFP near the park on Saturday morning.

She said she had not been a regular attendee at the vigils, but it was “a great loss to society”.

“The deepest impact is on the younger generations as the vigil was a window to let them know that such an appalling incident happened in China,” she added.

Within months, decades of commemorations were erased from Hong Kong.

Since last September, vigil leaders have been arrested and charged with subversion, their June 4 museum has been closed, statues have been removed and memorial church services cancelled.

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