HONG KONG: Thousands of people in Hong Kong defied a police ban on Thursday evening, breaking through barricades to hold a candlelight vigil on the 31st anniversary of China’s crushing of a democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
With democracy snuffed out in the mainland, the focus has shifted increasingly to semi-autonomous Hong Kong, where authorities for the first time banned the annual vigil that remembers victims of the 1989 crackdown.
Beijing is taking a tougher stance following months of anti-government protests last year, in what activists see as an accelerating erosion of the city’s rights and liberties. Earlier Thursday, the Hong Kong legislature passed a law making it a crime to disrespect China's national anthem. Pro-democracy lawmakers disrupted proceeding twice to try to prevent the vote.
Despite the police ban, crowds poured into Victoria Park to light candles and observe a minute of silence at 8:09pm. Many chanted Democracy now and Stand for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.
While police played recordings warning people not to participate in the unauthorised gathering, they did little to stop people from entering the park. Authorities had cited the need for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic in barricading the sprawling park, but activists saw the outbreak as a convenient excuse.
Police said they made arrests in the city’s Mongkok district, where large crowds also rallied. When several protesters tried to block a road, officers rushed to detain them, using pepper spray and raising a blue flag to warn them to disperse or they would use force on the unauthorised gathering. On Twitter, they urged people not to gather in groups because of the coronavirus.
After the vigil ended in Victoria Park, groups of protesters dressed in black carried flags that said, Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our times as well as Hong Kong Independence.
Hundreds and possibly thousands of people were killed when tanks and troops moved in on Tiananmen Square the night of June 3-4, 1989, to break up weeks of student-led protests that had spread to other cities and were seen as a threat to Communist Party rule.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson offered the government’s standard defence of the 1989 crackdown.
Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2020