(AFP) — Police arrested four people in Hong Kong for “seditious” acts and “disorderly conduct” on Saturday, on the eve of the 34th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
The bloody 1989 clampdown in Beijing is a highly sensitive topic for China’s communist leadership, and commemoration of the hundreds killed — by some estimates, more than 1,000 — has long been forbidden in the mainland.
For decades, Hong Kong was the only Chinese city with large-scale public Tiananmen commemoration, but the annual vigil has been banned following the imposition of a national security law on the city in 2020.
Around the busy shopping district of Causeway Bay on Saturday, AFP reporters witnessed police bundling several performance artists — some of whom appeared to be doing nothing — into police vans.
Late Saturday evening, the police said four people have been arrested “for disorderly conduct in a public place” and “doing acts with seditious intent”.
Four others were suspected of “breaching the peace” and were detained “to assist with the investigation,” the police said on its official Facebook page.
They did not name the people arrested and detained.
Earlier, artist Sanmu Chen had repeatedly chanted “Don’t forget June 4! Hong Kong people, don’t be afraid of them!” at a bustling Causeway Bay street.
An officer shouted at him to “stop doing seditious acts” before authorities bundled him into a police bus.
Another well-known performance artist Chan Mei-tung was also taken away, with police refusing to provide the reason for her detention.
Chan was wandering around before she was stopped and searched by police, AFP reporters witnessed.
She was detained last year as well on the anniversary’s eve. Her offending piece last year was whittling a potato into the shape of a candle and holding a lighter to it.
Thousands of candles would be distributed at the now-banned annual Tiananmen vigil.
Local media reported that two other well-known activists — Lau Ka-yee and Kwan Chun-pong — were removed from Victoria Park by police.
Photos published showed that the activists had covered their mouths with red tape while holding a piece of paper.
It read that they were fasting “in mourning for the deceased and victims of 64 (June 4) in respect for Tiananmen Mothers”.
AFP reporters also witnessed police detaining a young couple dressed in white and holding white chrysanthemums — a flower and colour typically used to signify loss and mourning.
When asked if they were being arrested, the flower-wielding man said “I have no idea” as he was taken away.
– Banned vigil –
Chinese troops and tanks broke up peaceful protests in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, brutally crushing a weeks-long wave of demonstrations calling for political change.
For decades, the annual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park drew tens of thousands until its ban in 2020.
Outside the park in Causeway Bay, artists would do interpretive performances about the crackdown and the apparent erasure of memorials happening in the mainland.
The vigil’s organiser, Hong Kong Alliance, and its leaders were charged with “incitement to subversion” under the security law, which was imposed to quell the massive and often violent pro-democracy protests that shook the city in 2019.
Former Alliance member Chiu Yan-loy told AFP the police had repeatedly asked him about his June 4 plans.
“They told me multiple times not to leave home on that day,” he said.
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On Saturday, Victoria Park — which was blocked with metal barriers for the past three years — had a “hometown fair” launched by pro-Beijing groups to promote products from the mainland. It will run until Monday.
There was a heavy police presence at Victoria Park and around the Causeway Bay area on Saturday.
Officers stopped and searched people walking around the bustling shopping district, while an armoured vehicle was spotted parked outside a mall.
One performance artist — who was tailed closely by authorities on Saturday — took a quieter approach, carrying a foldable chair to sit on and take a selfie, moving from street to street in the area around the park.
“My idea was that I wouldn’t stand still unless the police stop me,” the artist, who gave his name as Tung, told AFP.
Leading up to the anniversary on Sunday, officials repeatedly refused to confirm if public Tiananmen mourning was illegal, only saying that “everyone should act in accordance with the law”.