Tiananmen anniversary: Candlelight vigil banned, organisers arrested

Ahead of the 32nd anniversary of the massacre this year, authorities in Hong Kong have announced that any rally or public demonstration on June 4 will be deemed an unauthorised assembly.

On June 4, 1989, more than two lakh soldiers were deployed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to brutally suppress student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in the heart of Beijing — a bloody crackdown now remembered as the Tiananmen Square massacre. Every year since then, a huge candlelight vigil was held about 2,000 kilometres away in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, where tens of thousands gathered to pay their respects to the protestors who lost their lives at Tiananmen Square more than three decades ago. That was until this year.

Ahead of the 32nd anniversary of the massacre this year, authorities in Hong Kong have announced that any rally or public demonstration on June 4 will be deemed an unauthorised assembly, and participants could face up to five years in jail. Already, a prominent barrister and activist named Chow Hang Tung, vice-chairwoman of the group responsible for organising the annual candlelight vigil, was arrested earlier this week, according to The Guardian.

According to Hong Kong authorities Chow was arrested for promoting an unauthorised assembly. Thousands of police personnel were deployed on Friday to enforce the ban on demonstrations at the historic Victoria Park. Following the ban, Chow urged people to commemorate the event privately by lighting a candle wherever they were.

Most years on June 4th, thousands of protestors gather from across Hong Kong to commemorate the slain demonstrators of Tiananmen Square and their fight for democracy, which China has long not tolerated. Even after Hong Kong officially became part of China in 1997, the demonstrations continued for three decades in Hong Kong, serving almost as a test of its autonomy and democratic freedoms. However, with the imposition of China’s sweeping national security law in the island city, these candlelight vigils and rallies may already be a thing of the past.

Authorities blamed the pandemic for the ban on public gatherings, despite the fact that Hong Kong has not reported any untraceable local transmission of the virus in over a month. Last year too, police denied permission for the vigil citing the pandemic. However, thousands defied the ban and showed up at Victoria Park.

Rallies have never been permitted in mainland China, and the CCP increased security in the Beijing square on Friday morning, AP reported. In Hong Kong, police patrolled Victoria Park to prevent any unauthorised gatherings.

Undeterred by the pushback by authorities, students at the University of Hong Kong took part in the annual tradition of washing the “Pillar of Shame” sculpture, which was erected in memory of the victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

“For HKU students, 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,” Hong Kong University student union president Charles Kwok told AP.

Over the last year, much has changed in Hong Kong’s political landscape as authorities attempted to completely clamp down on the city’s pro-democracy movement. Most prominent activists — many of whom would have otherwise organised the Victoria Park vigil — are now either in prison, or have been forced to flee overseas.

Activists are now urging people to mark the occasion privately by lighting candles in their own homes and neighbourhoods, or by sharing their thoughts on social media. One group of activists even suggested writing the numbers 4 and 6 — to represent the historic date of the massacre — on light switches at home, The Guardian reported.

Meanwhile, vigils have been planned in other parts of the world, including Tokyo, London, Berlin, Washington and Sydney.

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