Hong Kong authorities suppress Tiananmen Square commemorations

Hong Kong’s commemorations of the Tiananmen Square massacre have been largely suppressed, as authorities seek to crush respect for a crackdown on student protesters in a city that has traditionally held the largest annual vigil on Chinese soil.

The anniversary is one of the most sensitive events for Chinese authorities, with discussions of censored protests on the mainland and survivors or families of victims routinely detained or questioned.

Hong Kong hosted the world’s largest annual commemoration every June 4 until it was banned in 2020, a year after pro-democracy protests engulfed Chinese territory. Authorities then cracked down on opposition and Beijing extended its control over the quasi-autonomous city.

Officials said the ban two years ago was aimed at controlling the coronavirus pandemic, but critics accused the government of using the health crisis as a pretext to stifle dissent.

Leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of China’s Democratic Patriotic Movements, the group that traditionally held the vigil, have been arrested and many are in jail. Chow Hang-tung, one of the jailed organizers, often uses her court appearances to reminisce about the massacre.

Authorities closed Victoria Park this year, where tens of thousands of residents usually light candles to commemorate the event, from Friday evening until early Sunday morning.

Police patrolled the area after a small number of performers performed near the park on Friday and were quickly led away or taken away for questioning.

Some locals have found subtle ways to commemorate the massacre.

The Catholic Church has marked the event in special masses for more than three decades but was stung by the arrest of Cardinal Zen, its former top cleric, last month. He was accused of failing to register a fund set up to help pay the legal and medical costs of participants in the 2019 protests. Cardinal Zen has denied the charges.

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents gathered in 2014 to light candles in the largest annual commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre on Chinese soil © AP

At a morning mass in Kowloon on Saturday, around 30 people prayed for those “who died for justice” despite the Catholic diocese’s cancellation of services to mark the massacre.

“Public memorials may be gone this year, but what I remember in my heart, you can’t make it go away,” one devotee said.

Hong Kong students also attempted to commemorate the protests. Universities have been at the center of Beijing’s attempts to destroy support for the 2019 pro-democracy protests, and longstanding Tiananmen Square massacre memorials on campuses have been removed.

The “Pillar of Shame”, an eight-meter sculpture by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt which had been on display at the University of Hong Kong since 1997, was dismantled last December.

The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s “Goddess of Democracy” statue, a replica of a monument erected by student protesters in Tiananmen Square, was removed that month.

CUHK students created tiny replicas of the missing artwork this week and hid them on campus for others to find before the event ended due to ‘increasing risks’, organizers said .

In Macau, one of the only other areas in China where commemorative events took place until they were banned from 2020, no public commemorations will take place after authorities said last year’s events could constitute “subversion”.

Vigils in Tiananmen Square were planned overseas, including in London and Taiwan, this weekend.

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