China deployed its vast security apparatus yesterday to snuff out commemoration of the suppression of pro-democracy protests around Tiananmen Square 25 years ago, flooding the streets with police as censors scrubbed the Internet clean of any mention of the crackdown.
Several governments, including the US, urged China to account for what happened on June 4, 1989, comments that riled Beijing, which has said the protest movement was “counter-revolutionary.”
Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama used the anniversary to call on China to embrace democracy.
China has never released a death toll for the crackdown, but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.
Taking no chances yesterday, police, soldiers and plainclothes security personnel enveloped Tiananmen Square, checking identity cards and rummaging through bags looking for any hint that people might try and sneak onto the square to commemorate the day.
Police escorted a Reuters reporter off the square, which was thronged with tourists, saying it was closed to foreign media. Police also detained another Reuters journalist for trying to report on the anniversary in one of Beijing’s university districts, releasing him after a few hours.
Public discussion of the crackdown is off-limits in China. Many young people are unaware of what happened because of years of government efforts to banish memories of the People’s Liberation Army shooting Chinese citizens.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands gathered in Hong Kong yesterday to remember the Tiananmen dead.
“Vindicate 6/4,” crowds shouted, waving banners, as the somber candle-lit vigil began in Victoria Park.
Lights were turned out as elderly and young alike raised their candles in the dark.
The names of those who died in Beijing on June 4, 1989, were read out over loudspeakers.
People bowed to pay their respects as film footage of the event was shown on large screens.
“This event must be instilled in everyone’s heart, we can’t let time dilute this event,” said Anna Lau, a 19-year-old student.
Among the crowds packing Victoria Park were many from China.
“I came here to take part in this vigil, because in China we don’t have any rights or freedoms ... so to express my views I have to come to Hong Kong,” said Huang Waicheng, a 35-year-old engineer from Shenzhen. “In China, there are too few people that know about [the crackdown].”
A 52-year-old businessman from Guangdong Province brought his son to the vigil.
“Freedom for the whole Chinese nation ought to be the country’s ultimate goal. It’s a good thing that some people still remember [the movement],” said the man, surnamed Li, who declined to give his full name.
Meanwhile, about 80 academics from 12 countries penned an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) yesterday, pressing for the release of five people taken away in China last month after attending a private seminar discussing the crackdown, including prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (浦志強).
Additional reporting by AFP