The atmosphere will be at once challenging and gloomy. Speakers will demand the Chinese Communist Party accountable for ordering a bloody military crackdown that killed hundreds, if not thousands, of unarmed pro-democracy protesters on that fateful day in Beijing.
In memory of the dead, at 8 pm each year, the garden will turn into a sea of candles, raised by people who vow never to be forgotten.
This year, whether those candles are lit again, will present a true test of Hong Kong, its freedoms and aspirations, and its relations with both China and the world.
The authorities in mainland China have always done their best to erase the memory of the massacre: censor news reports, block all signals from the Internet, arrest protest organizers and chase them into exile, and keep relatives of those who perished under tight surveillance. . As a result, generations of mainland China have grown up without knowledge of the events of June 4th.
But Hong Kong has always been able to remember. In the years immediately following the massacre, Hong Kong was still a British colony beyond the reach of Chinese censors. Even after Britain handed sovereignty over to China in 1997, the city enjoyed a semi-autonomous status that allowed the vigils to continue.
Recently, the candles were blacked out in Victoria Park. Authorities banned the vigil in 2020 and 2021 citing health restrictions related to the coronavirus – although many Hong Kong residents believe that was just a pretext to clamp down on public opposition demonstrations in the wake of pro-democracy protests that swept the city in 2019.
With Hong Kong now easing many of its Covid restrictions, all eyes will be on “six fours” this year – as history is known locally – as a measure of not only the political atmosphere, but Hong Kong’s appetite for defiance and the government’s tolerance of dissent.
For supporters of the vigil, the early signs are not good.
Many critics say the Hong Kong government would be too naive to ban the event again over Covid. However, that appears to be what outgoing CEO Carrie Lam has suggested. At the end of May, Lahm gave an equivocal response when asked if people who gathered in Victoria Park on June 4 would face legal repercussions.
“With regard to any gathering, there are a lot of legal requirements,” Lam told reporters. “There is a national security law, there are restrictions on social distancing, and there is also a question about where… Whether a particular activity has been given permission to do in a particular place has to be decided by the owner of the place.”
Hong Kong police confirmed on Thursday the government’s opposition to the vigil, noting that people were “promoting, supporting and urging others to participate in the unauthorized gathering in the Victoria Park area” on June 4 and advised the public not to attend.
Police cited the COVID measures and the public order decree and warned those who declared or organized illegal gatherings could be charged and imprisoned. There will be a “sufficient deployment” of police officers in the area, senior official Liao Ka Kee said, adding that the police had not received any requests for public memorials.
Asked if people there could be arrested for carrying flowers or wearing black, the color of protest in Hong Kong, Liao said that those who appeared to incite others to join illegal gatherings would be stopped and searched, and repeated the illegal gathering for a maximum of five years. . Imprisonment, while those found guilty of incitement could be up to 12 months.
Liao said the police would also target incitement to the online gathering.
Whether residents would dare to defy the government and come out in Victoria Park anyway has yet to be seen, but the national security legislation Lamm cited is a powerful deterrent. The Catholic Archdiocese of Hong Kong expressed concerns about the law when it recently announced that for the first time in three decades its churches would not hold the annual Tiananmen Mass.
The National Security Act is sweeping legislation introduced in Hong Kong by the central Chinese government and entered into force at the end of June 2020 – just weeks after Hong Kong residents defied the 2020 ban on vigils.
The central and local governments said the law was needed to restore order to the city after the pro-democracy protests, which they claimed were fueled by foreign elements. – Criminalize acts of secession, sabotage, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The authorities continue to insist that they do not infringe on freedom of the press or expression.
“After the implementation of the National Security Law, the chaos has stopped and order has returned to Hong Kong,” the Hong Kong government said on May 20.
However, many Hong Kong residents say the law has nullified their dreams of a freer and more democratic city.
Since the law went into effect, pro-democracy activists, former elected lawmakers, and journalists have been arrested. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents have left the city, some fleeing persecution and seeking asylum abroad.
The fates of Tiananmen Square and Hong Kong have always been intertwined.
Even before the massacre, when student protestors in Beijing were using the square as a base to press for government reform and increased democracy, Hong Kong residents were holding solidarity rallies. Many may even travel to the Chinese capital to offer support.
And when Beijing decided to send in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) armed with rifles and escorted tanks to forcibly clear the square of one of these protests—which drew tens of thousands of students—in the early hours of June 4, 1989, they were among the first to provide support.
There is no official death toll for the number of mostly students protesters killed that day, but estimates range from several hundreds to thousands, with many injured. It is also estimated that up to 10,000 people were arrested during and after the protests. Dozens of protesters were executed.
Of those who escaped, about 500 were rescued by an underground network dubbed “Operation Yellow Bird”, which helped smuggle organizers and others at risk of arrest into Hong Kong, which was still British territory at the time.
The following year, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of National Democratic Movements in China began organizing an annual vigil in Victoria Park, and despite fears that Beijing might clamp down on the event after the 1997 handover of sovereignty, it continued to thrive long after Hong Kong. The new incarnation as a special administrative region of China.
According to organizers, the last time the vigil was held in 2019, it was attended by more than 180,000 people.
Since that last vigil, there has been many symbolic erasures of the city’s ability to remember, protest and publicly mourn the massacre.
In September 2021, the Hong Kong Alliance – the organizer of the vigil – decided to dissolve it, citing the National Security Act.
Several of its members were charged with sabotage under the Security Act, and some key figures, including former MPs, were sentenced to prison for unauthorized assembly.
After the group’s dissolution was announced, Richard Tsui, former vice president of the coalition, said: “I believe that Hong Kong residents – regardless of individuality or other – will continue to celebrate June 4 as before.”
However, since Tsui spoke, more reminders of what happened on June 4, 1989 have fallen out of sight.
However, there are those who say that they will continue to speak out in any way possible to keep the memory of Tiananmen alive.
After former Hong Kong Alliance leader Zhao Hang-tung was arrested last year, she made an impassioned defense in court, condemning what she described as “one step in the systematic erasure of history, the Tiananmen massacre and Hong Kong’s civil history resistance.”
“Even if candlelight is criminalized, I will continue to call on people to take a stand, whether on June 4 this year or all of June 4 in the coming years.”
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