In a development that happens to be the first true manifestation of the new Hong Kong security law, police on Monday banned an upcoming vigil marking the Tiananmen crackdown anniversary citing the coronavirus pandemic, the first time the gathering has been halted in three decades. The Tiananmen Vigil is held every year to commemorate those Chinese lost in the quest for democracy, and is a sensitive issue for Hong Kongers.
The candlelight June 4 vigil usually attracts huge crowds and is the only place on Chinese soil where such a major commemoration of the anniversary is still allowed.
Last year’s gathering was especially large and came just a week before seven months of pro-democracy protests and clashes exploded onto the city’s streets, sparked initially by a plan to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland.
What does the Tiananmen Vigil commemorate?
The Tiananmen Square protests were student-led demonstrations calling for democracy, free speech and a free press in China. They were halted in a bloody crackdown, known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, by the Chinese government on June 4 and 5, 1989.
In 1989, the Tiananmen crackdown occurred when China’s leaders sent tanks and troops to quell student protesters calling for democracy and an end to corruption.
Hundreds were killed, with some estimates suggesting that more than 1,000 perished.
An annual vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre will not take place in Hong Kong this year, after police refused organizers permission to hold a mass gathering during the coronavirus pandemic. https://t.co/8e4zyK13PS— CNN (@CNN) June 1, 2020
Three decades on, it remains one of the most sensitive subjects in mainland China and any mention of it is strictly censored.
But in Hong Kong, the memory of what happened at Tiananmen is kept alive.
The annual vigils swelled before the 1997 handover to China and have become especially charged in recent years as many Hong Kongers chafe under Beijing’s rule.
This year’s anniversary is likely to coincide with Hong Kong’s pro-government stacked legislature voting for a law banning insults to China’s national anthem.
Tiananmen Vigil banned by police on public safety concerns
But police rejected permission for this year’s rally saying it would “constitute a major threat to the life and health of the general public”, according to a letter of objection to organisers obtained by AFP.
However, Hong Kong has managed to keep the virus mostly in check, with just over 1,000 infections and four deaths. Bars, restaurants, gyms and cinemas have largely reopened in recent weeks.
In the last two days five local infections were reported, breaking nearly two weeks of zero tallies.
This makes the decision to ban the Tiananmen Vigil all the more perplexing for Hong Kongers who were geared to commemorate the deadly incident.
Tiananmen Vigil banned: new Hong Kong security law in play
China’s parliament approved plans to impose a security law on Hong Kong that critics say will eradicate the city’s promised freedoms.
The vote by the rubber-stamp National People’s Congress came hours after the United States revoked the special status conferred on Hong Kong, paving the way for the territory to be stripped of trading and economic privileges.
Beijing says the law — which will bypass Hong Kong’s legislature — is needed to tackle “terrorism” and “separatism”.
Opponents fear it will bring mainland-style political oppression to a business hub supposedly guaranteed freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after its 1997 handover to China by Britain.
Organisers defiant, call on volunteers to light candles wherever they are
Organisers accused police of using the virus as an excuse to ban the rally.
“I don’t see why the government finds political rallies unacceptable while it gave green lights to resumption of schools and other services ranging from catering, karaoke to swimming pools,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance which has organised every vigil since 1990.
The alliance called on residents to instead light a candle at 8pm on Thursday and observe one minute of silence wherever they can.
“If we are not allowed to light a candle at a rally, we will let the candles be lit across the city,” Lee said.
Lee also vowed that the alliance would continue to chant the slogan “end one-party rule” during the commemoration despite Beijing’s recently announced plans to impose a law criminalising acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign interference.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk