Hong Kong boosted security around a park Sunday where tens of thousands of people used to gather for an annual memorial of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown, ensuring no protests on the event’s 34th anniversary.
In past years, Hong Kongers would converge on Victoria Park and its surrounding Causeway Bay neighborhood to commemorate the events of June 4, 1989 – taking part in a candlelight vigil or watching performances about the bloody incident.
But this weekend, the park hosts a “hometown carnival fair” organized by pro-Beijing groups, with scores of police deployed in the adjacent shopping district a day after four people were arrested for “seditious” acts and “disorderly conduct.”
Police searched shoppers in Causeway Bay on Saturday, and moved quickly to remove performance artists and activists.
Four people were also detained on suspicion of “breaching the peace.”
AFP saw artist Sanmu Chen chant “Don’t forget June 4!” before he was bundled into a police bus.
Discussion of the Tiananmen crackdown is highly sensitive to China’s communist leadership, and commemoration is forbidden on the mainland.
Thirty-four years ago, the government sent troops and tanks to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to break up peaceful protests, brutally crushing a weeks-long wave of demonstrations calling for political change.
Hundreds—by some estimates, more than 1,000—were killed.
For decades, Hong Kong was the only Chinese city with a large-scale commemoration of the incident—a key index of the liberties and political pluralism afforded by its semi-autonomous status.
But the Victoria Park vigil has been banned since 2020, the year Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law to quell dissent after massive, and at times violent, pro-democracy protests.
Wong, a 53-year-old who provided only her last name, praised the atmosphere of the fair at Victoria Park, but when asked about the vigil, said it was an event of the past.
“Hong Kong is a different place now.”
The Chinese government has gone to exhaustive lengths to erase the event from public memory in the mainland.
All mention of the crackdown is scrubbed from China’s internet.
And this year, authorities also targeted a Beijing bridge that was the site of a rare protest last year – a protester had hung a banner on Sitong Bridge in October calling for “freedom.”
Security around the bridge was beefed up over the weekend, the road sign was taken down and directions on map apps did not work.
Since the passage of the security law in 2020, Hong Kong’s most prominent democracy activists have either fled abroad or been rounded up.
But the city’s authorities still appeared to be vigilant in the weeks leading up to Sunday.
Police seized a commemorative “Pillar of Shame” statue for a security trial; a private screening of a documentary unrelated to the Tiananmen crackdown was cancelled; and books related to the crackdown were removed from the city’s public libraries.
Meanwhile, at Hong Kong’s public broadcaster RTHK, a thank you letter dated June 6, 1989 – to the network’s reporters who remained in Beijing to document the crackdown – appeared to have been removed from their office, said a staffer who requested anonymity.
RTHK told AFP it was part of the “various exercises to upkeep its office premises.”
City officials have sidestepped questions about whether the public mourning was allowed.
Hong Kong’s leader John Lee maintained that the public must act according to the law or “be ready to face the consequences.”
Vigils will be held around the world, from Japan and Sydney to New York and London, where a re-enactment of the crackdown will take place at Trafalgar Square on Sunday.
In Taiwan, the drama “35th of May” – a coded reference to the day – will be staged in the capital’s Shinehouse Theater.
“The history and the memory will not be wiped out easily,” said Hong Konger Sky Fung, secretary-general of Taiwan-based NGO Hong Kong Outlanders, who is now in Taiwan.
“I believe the spark is still in our hearts.”