Thousands of Hong Kong protesters yesterday lit candles and chanted democracy slogans as they defied a ban against gathering to commemorate the 31st anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square Massacre, with tensions seething in the territory over new security legislation.
Crowds streamed into one of the territory’s main parks, which has hosted huge Tiananmen anniversary vigils over the past three decades, with smaller rallies erupting across the territory.
Police arrested some demonstrators in a shopping district, although they allowed the main rally at Victoria Park to proceed.
The displays of resistance came hours after the Hong Kong Legislative Council passed a bill criminalizing insults to China’s national anthem, which the pro-democracy movement sees as yet another example of eroding freedoms.
Beijing’s plans to impose security legislation on Hong Kong criminalizing treason and subversion have cemented fears that the semi-autonomous territory is losing its treasured liberties.
“I’ve come here for the vigil for 30 years in memory of the victims of the June 4 crackdown, but this year it is more significant to me,” a 74-year-old man surnamed Yip (葉) told reporters as he joined the crowds inside Victoria Park. “Because Hong Kong is experiencing the same kind of repression from the same regime, just like what happened in Beijing.”
Hundreds of people — by some estimates more than 1,000 — were killed in 1989, when the Chinese Communist Party deployed the military into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to crush a student-led movement for democratic reforms.
Commemorations of the event are forbidden in China, but have been allowed in semi-autonomous Hong Kong, which has been granted liberties under the terms of its 1997 handover from the British.
This year’s vigil was banned, with authorities citing coronavirus restrictions on group gatherings.
However, thousands of people, including prominent democracy activists, poured into the park and lit candles as an act of remembrance and resistance.
Some wore black T-shirts with the word “Truth” emblazoned in white. Others were in office attire.
Many shouted pro-democracy slogans including: “Stand with Hong Kong” and “End one-party rule.”
Other candlelight vigils were held in local neighborhoods, shopping districts and churches across Hong Kong.
Crowds have swelled at Hong Kong’s Tiananmen vigils whenever fears have spiked that Beijing is prematurely stamping out the territory’s cherished freedoms, an issue that has dominated Hong Kong over the past 12 months.
The territory was engulfed by seven straight months of huge and often-violent pro-democracy protests last year — rallies that began five days after the last annual vigil.
In response to those demonstrations, Beijing last month announced plans to impose the security legislation, which would bypass Hong Kong’s legislature, saying that it is needed to tackle “terrorism” and “separatism” in a restless territory it now regards as a direct national security threat.
Critics, including many Western nations, fear that it will bring mainland-style political oppression to the territory.
In China, authorities do not allow any open discussion about the massacre and censors scrub any mention of it off the Internet. The candle emoji has been unavailable in the past few days on China’s microblogging platforms.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs described international calls for Beijing to apologize for the crackdown as “complete nonsense.”
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