Police officers stand guard in front of Tiananmen gate on the eve of the 31st anniversary of the June 4, 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests, in Beijing on June 3, 2020.
AFP/Greg Baker
Hong Kong to lead Tiananmen mourning despite virus vigil ban
Jerome Taylor, Su Xinqi (Agence France-Presse) - June 4, 2020 - 7:20am

HONG KONG, China — Hong Kong will Thursday lead global remembrance of China's deadly Tiananmen crackdown, with people lighting candles in neighbourhoods across the restless city after authorities banned a mass vigil because of the coronavirus.

Open discussion of the brutal suppression is forbidden inside China, where hundreds — by some estimates more than a thousand — died when the Communist Party sent tanks on June 4, 1989 to crush a student-led demonstration in Beijing calling for democratic reforms.

But Hong Kongers have kept memories alive for the last three decades by holding a huge annual vigil in a park, the only place inside China were such mass displays of remembrance are possible. 

This year's vigil was forbidden on public health grounds with restrictions placed on more than eight people gathering in public, to combat the coronavirus.

Organisers have instead called for residents to light candles at 8:00 pm (1200 GMT) wherever they happen to be.

"If we are not allowed to light a candle at a rally, we will let the candles be lit across the city," Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of vigil organisers Hong Kong Alliance, told reporters.

Crowds have swelled at Hong Kong's Tiananmen vigils whenever fears spike that Beijing is prematurely stamping out the semi-autonomous city's own cherished freedoms, an issue that has dominated the finance hub for the last 12 months.

The business hub was engulfed by seven straight months of huge and often violent pro-democracy protests last year — rallies that kicked off five days after the last annual vigil.

Security and anthem laws

In response to those protests last month Beijing announced plans to introduce a sweeping national security law covering secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and foreign interference.

China says the law — which will bypass Hong Kong's legislature — is needed to tackle "terrorism" and "separatism" in a restless city it now regards as a direct national security threat.

But opponents, including many Western nations, fear it will bring mainland-style political oppression to a business hub that was supposedly guaranteed freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after its 1997 handover to China from Britain.

Hong Kong's lawmakers are also expected to sign off on another controversial law on Thursday — one punishing insults towards China's national anthem with up to three years in jail.

With the Victoria Park vigil banned, Hong Kongers are organising locally and getting creative.

"We are expecting white candles to be distributed at 100 to 200 spots across Hong Kong," Chiu Yan-loy, a district councillor and alliance member told AFP.

Online groups have sent out maps and lists of more than a dozen districts calling for people to gather for small vigils.

Seven Catholic churches have also announced plans to host a commemorative mass on Thursday evening.

Riot police have moved swiftly against protests forming in recent weeks, citing the coronavirus measures.

Vigils are also planned in neighbouring Taiwan and among the Chinese diaspora in many western countries. 

But in mainland China, Tiananmen is greeted by an information blackout, with censors scrubbing mentions of protests and dissidents often visited by police in the days leading up to June 4.

The candle emoji has been unavailable in recent days on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform. 

On Wednesday, China's foreign ministry described calls by Taiwan for Beijing to apologise for the crackdown as "complete nonsense". 

"The great achievements since the founding of new China over the past 70 or so years fully demonstrates that the developmental path China has chosen is completely correct," spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters. 

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: July 15, 2020 - 1:07pm

Millions march in Hong Kong in a powerful rebuke of an extradition law feared to expose them to China's capricious justice system.

July 15, 2020 - 1:07pm

China's new security law has sent a chill through Hong Kong's schools and universities with many teachers fearful the city's reputation for academic freedom and excellence is now at risk.

Just a week after the sweeping legislation was imposed on the territory, staff at some institutions have already been warned by their administrators to be careful how they teach.

"Remain neutral in your teaching and be mindful of the language you use," read one email to staff of HKU SPACE, a college attached to the prestigious University of Hong Kong (HKU). — AFP

July 15, 2020 - 11:45am

China says it would retaliate after US President Donald Trump signed into law an act allowing sanctions on banks over Beijing's clampdown on Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Autonomy Act "maliciously slanders" national security legislation imposed by Beijing on the city, China's foreign ministry says in a statement. 

"China will make necessary responses to protect its legitimate interests, and impose sanctions on relevant US personnel and entities," the ministry says. — AFP

July 15, 2020 - 9:28am

The New York Times says it was moving its digital news hub from Hong Kong to South Korea as a result of a national security law Beijing imposed on the city. 

"China's sweeping new national security law in Hong Kong has created a lot of uncertainty about what the new rules will mean to our operation and our journalism," executives wrote in an email to staff, according to a news report published on the New York Times website.

"We feel it is prudent to make contingency plans and begin to diversify our editing staff around the region." — AFP

July 14, 2020 - 1:51pm

China has described a primary by Hong Kong's pro-democracy parties as a "serious provocation", warning that some campaigning may have breached a tough new security law it imposed on the city. 

The comments by the Liaison Office, which represents China's government in the semi-autonomous city, dramatically heightens the risk of prosecution for opposition parties and leading figures.

More than 600,000 Hong Kongers turned out over the weekend to choose candidates for upcoming legislative elections despite warnings from government officials that the exercise could breach Beijing's sweeping new law. — AFP

July 11, 2020 - 3:30pm

Hong Kong police have raided the office of a prominent opinion pollster that was helping the city's pro-democracy opposition to conduct a primary election, a director of the group says Saturday.

The overnight move came days after China imposed a sweeping new national security law on the financial hub after months of civil unrest last year. — AFP

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