Hong Kong Will Defy Ban on Tiananmen Square Massacre Event with ‘Individual’ Vigils

People attend a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong on June 4, 2019, to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing. - Large crowds turned out for a mass candlelight vigil in Hong Kong on June 4 evening marking 30 years since China's bloody …
PHILIP FONG/AFP/Getty Images

The Hong Kong Alliance, organizers of an annual vigil to honor the dead of Tiananmen Square, on Tuesday said people may need to “light a candle wherever you are” at 8:00 p.m. on June 4 instead of rallying by the thousands in Victoria Park.

The park was the venue for a massive candlelight vigil, the only such event of any size permitted on Chinese soil, from 1990 until last year, when the gathering was ostensibly prohibited due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hong Kong officials invoked the pandemic to effectively ban the Victoria Park gathering again this year.

Several thousand people assembled at the park last year despite the ban, and that could happen again this year, or the Hong Kong Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) could be pressured into processing applications to use the park again. Police filed criminal charges against numerous participants in last year’s rally, and courts sentenced four of them to prison time last week, including prominent activist Joshua Wong.

The island’s Beijing-controlled chief executive, Carrie Lam, said on Tuesday the coronavirus situation has “stabilized” and schools will reopen for half-days of in-person instruction beginning on May 24.

Lam made these remarks in the context of backing down from a controversial mandatory vaccination plan for foreign workers, although they are still subject to mandatory coronavirus testing. Tiananmen Square demonstrators may well ask why Victoria Park should remain closed after four consecutive days of zero known coronavirus infections.

If the LCSD refuses to grant permits, Hong Kong Alliance vice-chair Chow Hang-tun told the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) on Tuesday that individual candlelight vigils should be held across the city.

“It’s also a way for everyone to join, even though, say, you’re not in Hong Kong, even though you have other engagements, for any reason you cannot come to Victoria Park,” she added.

Chow said she was “not optimistic” that her organization’s application to hold the annual vigil in the park would be processed.

The HKFP noted in April that democracy activists fear the government will use the coronavirus as a pretext to crush the Tiananmen Square vigil once and for all, by invoking the draconian Chinese “national security law” imposed last year that criminalizes all dissent from Beijing’s political orthodoxy as “subversion.”

Lam hinted as much in late April by saying the Victoria Park vigil would only be allowed to resume if participants avoid “the offenses expressly prohibited in the national security law,” including “secession, subversion of Central government and the Hong Kong SAR [Special Administrative Region] government, engaging in terrorist activities or collusion with an external party to endanger national security.”

“We in the Hong Kong SAR need to respect the country’s constitution, and the constitution clearly says that socialism with Chinese characteristics is led by the Chinese Communist Party. Under the premise of respecting the constitution, we should also respect the Chinese Communist Party,” Lam declared. 

It is difficult to “respect” the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) when remembering the brutal atrocities it committed against the demonstrators of Tiananmen Square in 1989. The CCP has officially erased the event from Chinese history, allowing its subjects to remember only that some sort of “counter-revolutionary” plot was thwarted. Additionally, Hong Kong’s annual vigils have routinely included calls for freedom, democracy, and the end of one-party rule that would clearly be classified as subversive under the 2020 national security law.

The Tiananmen Square protests began in May 1989 with hundreds of thousands of Chinese students packed into the Beijing square to demand greater democratic freedom and the resignation of corrupt and oppressive CCP officials. After about three weeks of demonstrations televised worldwide, the CCP sent in police and military forces to crush the movement. A bloodbath ensued as the murderous Communist forces opened fire on unarmed students.

The exact death toll is a Chinese state secret, and frightened foreign reporters were only allowed to witness some of the carnage, but estimates range from hundreds to thousands of deaths. The Chinese government admitted to about 200 fatalities in 1989, claiming without evidence that some of those were security forces killed by the “counter-revolutionaries,” while a British report in 2017 said at least 10,000 were killed.

The enduring image of Tiananmen Square is the sight of a lone man in a white shirt standing before a line of tanks dispatched by the Chinese government to help finish off the protesters. The identity of “Tank Man” has never been confirmed, and his fate is unknown. He is an iconic figure of dignity and courage among Hong Kong’s democracy movement; a middle-aged Hong Kong man with an umbrella who pleaded with riot police not to fire upon young protesters in 2019 was hailed as the island’s own Tank Man. (The Hong Kong version was kicked in the stomach by a policeman for his trouble, but survived the encounter.)

Benedict Rogers, head of the London-based Hong Kong Watch, saw the harsh sentences imposed on prominent attendees of last year’s Victoria Park vigil as a warning that Tiananmen Square commemorations will be criminalized.

“The jailing of Joshua Wong, Lester Shum, and two district councilors for their participation in a peaceful vigil marking the Tiananmen Square Massacre is a new low in the dismantling of the city’s freedom. It appears that it is now a crime in Hong Kong to remember the 1989 massacre, where the Chinese Communist Party killed thousands of student activists,” Rogers said last week.

“It is increasingly clear that the Chinese Government no longer has any regard for Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the right of Hong Kongers to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly,” Rogers declared, urging “Magnitsky sanctions on Hong Kong and Chinese officials responsible for human rights violations within the city,” 

The Magnitsky Act, named after a Russian anti-corruption whistleblower who died after physical abuse in prison, enables targeted sanctions against foreign officials who perpetrate human rights violations. Nations such as Australia and Japan are considering sanctions under their own versions of the Magnitsky Act to retaliate against Chinese officials for violating human rights in their crackdown on Hong Kong democracy. The Chinese government rejects the moral authority of Western nations to impose human rights sanctions and criticizes them as affronts to the “rules-based international order.”

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