Hong Kong Arrests Dozens for Attempting to Honor Tiananmen Square Massacre Victims

Chan Po Ting, an activist from the League of Social Democrats, is detained by police officers near Victoria Park, the traditional site of the annual Tiananmen candlelight vigil, in Hong Kong, China, on Sunday, June 4, 2023. For almost three decades, people in Hong Kong commemorated the June 4 anniversary …
Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Hong Kong police detained at least 24 people on Sunday, the anniversary of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square massacre, for violating the Communist government’s ban on vigils and commemorations.

Hong Kong was the site of the largest Tiananmen vigils among Chinese-speaking people in the world until 2020, when the massive annual rally in Victoria Park was banned first under the rubric of coronavirus pandemic safety and then under the draconian “national security law” imposed by Beijing to crush the 2019 pro-democracy movement.

The “national security law” criminalized almost all criticism of the Chinese Communist Party as “sedition” or “treason,” and those were among the excuses Hong Kong officials cited for arresting people as they strove to remember the Tiananmen Square massacre on Sunday.

Among those detained were several veteran pro-democracy activists and journalists.

The Taipei Times reported on Monday that June 4 detainees included Chan Po-ying, head of the dissident League of Social Democrats; famed democracy activist Alexandra “Grandma” Wong; and reporter Mak Yin-ting, former chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA).

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) spotted former Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) vice-chairman Leo Tang Kin-wah being “escorted into a police vehicle” while wearing a T-shirt printed with a front-page newspaper report about the massacre from 1989. HKCTU was pressured into disbanding in October 2021 by the growing atmosphere of menace from the national security law.

The SCMP noted that 67-year-old “Grandma Wong” was doing nothing more than standing on a street corner, handing out flowers. Police detained other passersby for carrying books about the Tiananmen massacre or even just for wearing the color yellow, which is associated with the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement.

“I have told my children about the incident. No one can change history,” said a man who was detained and searched for taking photos of police cars.

The police essentially set up checkpoints around Victoria Park, the scene of the Tiananmen vigil for three decades, and dragged anyone who looked like trouble to tents for processing. Among other signs, they looked for candles, images of candles on smartphones, and number codes like “64” and “the 35th of May,” which alluded to June 4.

Police officers stop and search a person near Victoria Park, the traditional site of the annual Tiananmen candlelight vigil, in Hong Kong, China, on Sunday, June 4, 2023. Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“Everyone knows what day is today,” one woman said with a literal shrug as she emerged from a police tent to talk with a Taipei Times reporter.

A National Taiwan University grad student from Hong Kong named Lau Ka-yee was among those detained on “sedition” charges for participating in a Tiananmen vigil at Victoria Park. Lau turned up at the park wearing a T-shirt with the image of a candle and the Chinese character for “truth” and said she intended to fast in honor of the Tiananmen Square victims. She wrote on Facebook on Monday to say she was safe after being released on bail.

The U.S. and European Union diplomatic missions in Hong Kong put electric candles in their windows to commemorate June 4, while the Australian, British, and Canadian consulates posted messages of remembrance:

The SCMP reported that two members of the group that used to organize the Tiananmen vigil in Victoria Park, Frances Hui and Chow Hang-tung, were put in solitary confinement for staging hunger strikes to commemorate the massacre. 

Their group, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was bullied into disbanding by the government in September 2021. Chow is serving a 4.5-month prison term for refusing to assist an investigation into the group for allegedly violating the national security law.

The SCMP noted that Victoria Park was occupied this year by a “carnival” celebrating the “diversity” of mainland China. Organizers denied the carnival was whipped up just to keep Tiananmen memorials from being held in the park.


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