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For an event that happened almost 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) away, the Tiananmen Square massacre has become deeply embedded in Hong Kong’s psyche. That’s because for the past three decades, Hong Kong was the only place where major commemorations were held, including marches, church services, and huge candlelit vigils in the city’s Victoria Park.
After Hong Kong became part of China in 1997, the continuation of these events was always seen as a major litmus test for the city’s ongoing autonomy and democratic freedoms, supposedly guaranteed until 2047 by its de facto constitution, the Basic Law, under the principle of “one country, two systems.”
The 30th anniversary in 2019 saw one of the biggest turnouts at the Victoria Park vigil, with organizers claiming some 180,000 people joined the commemoration (though police said it was closer to 40,000). That anniversary came amid escalating tensions over a proposed extradition bill between Hong Kong and China: just five days later, over a million people marched against it, and in the months that followed, the city was consumed by increasingly violent protests and police crackdowns.
In the wake of those protests, Beijing introduced a national security law for Hong Kong, bypassing the city’s semi-democratic legislature to criminalize secession, subversion and collusion with foreign powers. That law has been used to crack down on a host of political activity, and almost every prominent pro-democracy politician and activist is either in prison — or headed there.
As talk of the law rumbled ahead of its abrupt passing on June 30 last year, many saw June 4, 2020, as potentially the final opportunity for a major commemoration. Despite authorities banning the Victoria Park vigil on pandemic grounds, tens of thousands still turned out to mark the event peacefully, and police took a hands-off approach — though subsequently arrested and charged a number of activists deemed to have “organized” the protest.
This year, the gloves are off. The city’s Security Bureau said Saturday that any rally on June 4 would be deemed an unauthorized assembly, and “no one should take part in it, or advertise or publicize it, or else he or she may violate the law.”
Offenders could face up to five years in prison, while those promoting the event could be jailed for up to 12 months, the bureau added.
Already this week one activist — known locally as Grandma Wong — was arrested for staging a solo Tiananmen protest, while the city’s recently reopened June 4 Museum was forced to shut again. Organizers of the candlelit vigil have canceled the event for the first time in over 30 years, asking instead that people “mourn June 4 with perseverance and wisdom, under lawful, safe, peaceful and rational circumstances, in their own way, at the right time and place,” though that didn’t stop one of them being detained in the early hours of Friday.
Likely the safest way to remember Tiananmen will be behind closed doors — similar to how the event is marked in mainland China, by the few who still choose to remember.
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Analysis: Tens of thousands took part in Hong Kong’s Tiananmen vigil in 2020. This year the gloves are off
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