(AP) — Police
have arrested the organizer of Hong Kong's annual candlelight vigil commemorating the deadly Tiananmen Square crackdown
and have warned people
not to attend the banned event on Friday as authorities silence China
's last pro-democracy voices.
Tens of thousands of people have gathered in Hong Kong's Victoria Park in previous years to remember those who died when China's military
crushed student-led pro-democracy protests on June 4, 1989, killing hundreds, if not thousands.
China's ruling Communist Party has never permitted public commemorations of the military's attack
on protesters and citizens, and security
was increased in Beijing
Square Friday morning, with police checking pedestrian IDs and tour buses transporting Chinese tourists as usual.
Authorities have stifled all discussion of the events on the mainland, where the few remaining activists and victims' advocates have been subjected to increased police surveillance and have been taken away on involuntary "vacations" around the anniversary
Chinese officials argue that the country's rapid economic development since the "political turmoil" of 1989 demonstrates that decisions made at the time were correct.
Along with the deaths of protesters and ordinary citizens, the 1989 events caused significant turmoil within the party, with the reformist general secretary, Zhao Ziyang, being removed from office and placed under house
arrest until his death in 2005.
Attempts to silence public memory of the Tiananmen Square events have recently focused on Hong Kong, where the June 4 Museum was closed this week and police warned residents not to attend the vigil on Friday.
The nighttime event in Victoria Park has been banned for a second year due to coronavirus pandemic
restrictions, despite the city having had no local cases for more than six weeks; however, the action comes amid sweeping moves to quell dissent in the city, including a new national security law, election
changes, and the arrests of many activists who participated in pro-democracy protests that swept Hong Kong in 201.
Hong Kong police officers in vehicles and on foot cordoned off parts of Victoria Park, including football
fields and basketball
courts, to prevent unauthorized gatherings. Police said they were aware of social media
calls urging people to attend the vigil.
Participating in an illegal gathering carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison
, while merely promoting such an event carries a year in prison.
According to a government statement, “police appeal to members of the public to refrain from participating in, advertising, or publicizing any unauthorized assemblies and prohibited gatherings.”
Students at the University of Hong Kong participated in the annual washing of the “Pillar of Shame,” a sculpture erected to commemorate the victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
The president of the students' union, Charles Kwok, stated that the event was "legitimate and legal," and that they hoped to honor those who gave their lives in the name of freedom and democracy.
“For HKU students, cleaning the Pillar of Shame will teach us how our forefathers fought for free expression in the past, and we will not give up easily,” Kwok said.
Police senior superintendent Law Kwok-hoi told reporters that a 36-year-old woman from the Hong Kong Alliance and a 20-year-old food
delivery man were arrested for advertising and publicizing an unauthorized assembly on their social media accounts even after the vigil was banned.
According to the alliance, which organized the vigil and ran the June 4 Museum dedicated to the memory of Tiananmen Square, Chow Hang Tung, vice chair of the group, was arrested Friday morning.
Following the ban, Chow urged people to remember the event privately by lighting a candle wherever they were.
Last year, thousands flocked to Victoria Park to light candles and sing songs, prompting police to charge over 20 activists, including Chow, for their participation.
Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho, two other key members of the Hong Kong Alliance, were arrested in 2019 for attending unauthorized assemblies.
Chow, a barrister, told The Associated Press
in an earlier interview
that she expected to be imprisoned for her activism at some point, and she has been a member of the Hong Kong Alliance since 2010.
“I’m already being persecuted for taking part in and inciting last year’s candlelight vigil,” she said, adding that “if I continue my activism in pushing for democracy in Hong Kong and China, they will surely come after me at some point, so it’s sort of expected.”
While Chinese authorities seek to limit remembrances, they also appear to believe that time will erase memories of the 1989 crackdown.
The government made no response to the Tiananmen Mothers' appeal, which was published on the Human Rights
in China website, urging the party to release official records about the crackdown, compensate those killed and injured, and hold those responsible accountable.
Tiananmen Mothers reported that 62 of its members had died since the group representing victims' relatives was founded in the late 1990s, and that many young Chinese have “grown up in a false sense of prosperous jubilance and enforced glorification of the government (and) have no idea of or refuse to believe what happened on June 4, 1989, in the nation's capital.”
In recent years, the suppression of Tiananmen Square commemorations has been accompanied by harsh repression of religious and ethnic minorities in Tibet, the northwestern region of Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia, as well as a sharp reduction in political rights in Hong Kong.
“In its attempts to bury the truth of the brutal crimes it committed against its people, China’s authoritarian regime has used another type of force — enforced amnesia,” Human Rights in China said in an online statement.
As the island faces its worst virus outbreak of the pandemic, activists who host an annual Tiananmen Square memorial that draws hundreds are moving
mostly online. The New School for Democracy, an NGO, is setting up a temporary memorial pavilion Friday afternoon where people in small groups can leave flowers and other mementos in honor of the date.
The United States
State Department issued a statement expressing its support for those advocating for victims and seeking the truth about the events.
“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 statement said, adding that such demands were echoed in the struggle for political rights in Hong Kong.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry, called the statement "interference in China's internal affairs," and suggested that the US "first look in the mirror and reflect on its own poor record in human rights."
“With such a poor human rights record supported by ironclad evidence, in what position can the United States lecture others on human rights?” Wang asked, referring to the 1921 massacre of Black residents in Tulsa
, discrimination against minorities, and U.S. actions in the Middle East
This article was contributed to by Associated Press journalists
Alice Fung in Hong Kong, Huizhong Wu in Taipei, and Emily Wang Fujiyama in Beijing.