Hundreds of people have gathered near a Hong Kong park despite a ban on an annual candlelight vigil remembering China’s deadly crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and the arrest earlier in the day of an organiser of previous vigils.
Hong Kong police banned the vigil for a second straight year, citing coronavirus social distancing restrictions although there have been no local cases in the semi-autonomous Chinese city for more than six weeks.
Police closed off large parts of Victoria Park – the venue of past vigils – in the city’s popular Causeway Bay shopping district and warned people not to participate in unauthorised assemblies, which carry a penalty of up to five years in jail.
Despite the ban and a heavy police presence, hundreds of people still turned up on Friday night to walk along the perimeter of the park.
At 8pm, many turned on the flashlights on their smartphones while others lit candles in remembrance of those who lost their lives when China’s military put down student-led pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
Hundreds, if not thousands, were killed in the crackdown.
In past years, tens of thousands of people have gathered in Victoria Park to honour the dead.
Last year, thousands attended despite the ban to light candles and sing songs.
Police later charged more than 20 activists with participating in the event.
A man who joined the hundreds near the park on Friday who gave only his surname, Wong, because of fears of punishment said the Tiananmen Square crackdown is a memory shared by Hong Kongers, and he wanted to commemorate the students and citizens who were killed by the People’s Liberation Army.
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.
Earlier on Friday, police arrested Chow Hang Tung, a vice chair of the Hong Kong Alliance which organised Hong Kong’s annual candlelight vigil, the group said.
Although police did not identify Chow, they said they arrested a 36-year-old woman from the Hong Kong Alliance as she was advertising and publicising an unauthorised assembly via social media despite the police ban on the vigil.
After the ban was issued, Chow urged people to commemorate the event privately by lighting a candle wherever they are.
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.”
Two other key members of the Hong Kong Alliance – Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho – are behind bars for joining unauthorised assemblies during the 2019 protests.
At the University of Hong Kong on Friday afternoon, 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.