Despite a government ban on the annual event to commemorate the lives lost in 1989 during the Tiananmen Square Massacre, hundreds of people in Hong Kong still gathered to pay their respects.
Last year, Hong Kong authorities banned the yearly vigil held at Victoria Park for the first time. As The New York Times reported at the time, “The order cited the need to enforce social-distancing rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as the justification for the ban.” The move came last summer as the Chinese Communist government took action to impose new security laws on Hong Kong that critics decried at the time as “the end of Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong police banned the vigil again this year allegedly because of coronavirus social distancing restrictions even though, as The Associated Press reported, “there have been no local cases in the semi-autonomous Chinese city for about six weeks.”
Law enforcement shut down parts of Victoria Park, where people have gathered to pay their respects in the past, and told people not to gather in “unauthorized assemblies, which is illegal with punishment of … up to five years imprisonment,” per the AP. Hundreds of people still came together on Friday night, however, to walk near the park.
The June 4, 1989, clash between demonstrators and the Chinese military resulted in hundreds, and potentially thousands, of protester deaths. “China’s ruling Communist Party has never allowed public events on the mainland to mark the anniversary and security was increased at the Beijing square, with police checking pedestrians’ IDs as tour buses shuttled Chinese tourists in and out,” the AP reported.
Some took to social media to show the stark difference between the typical anniversary vigil held in the Hong Kong park over the years and now. Images portrayed large crowds gathered together in 1990, 1999, 2004, 2011, and beyond, with the 2021 image showing a fairly empty area.
Powerful combo picture has just hit the @AFP wire.
Shows Tiananmen anniversary vigils in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park in 1990, 1999, 2004, 2011, 2015, 2018, 2019, 2020 and… tonight pic.twitter.com/Gf3Fpwtmdt
— Jerome Taylor (@JeromeTaylor) June 4, 2021
Edward Yeung, one of the people taking part in Friday night’s event, used a lighter instead of a candle and said that officials are “scared of the people.”
“They’re scared that people will remember all this. They want to wash it all away,” he said.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement of support for remembrance of the massacre. “The courage of the brave individuals who stood shoulder-to-shoulder on June 4 reminds us that we must never stop seeking transparency on the events of that day, including a full accounting of all those killed, detained, or missing. The Tiananmen demonstrations are echoed in the struggle for democracy and freedom in Hong Kong, where a planned vigil to commemorate the massacre in Tiananmen Square was banned by local authorities,” the statement said.
It added, “The United States will continue to stand with the people of China as they demand that their government respect universal human rights. We honor the sacrifices of those killed 32 years ago, and the brave activists who carry on their efforts today in the face of ongoing government repression.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin reportedly denounced the statement as the United States intruding in China’s own affairs and said the U.S. should “first look at itself in a mirror and reflect on its own poor record in human rights.”
“In what position can the U.S. lecture others on human rights?” he said, reportedly referencing the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and U.S. activity in the Middle East.
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