Hong Kong Authorities Crack Down on Tiananmen Square Anniversary Commemorations
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Police officers stop and search people near Victoria Park, Hong Kong’s traditional venue for the annual 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown vigil, in Hong Kong, June 4, 2024.

By The Smartencyclopedia Newsroom with Agencies

HONG KONG — On Tuesday, Hong Kong police arrested four people and detained five others in a concerted effort to prevent public commemorations of the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Authorities sought to quell any activities marking the pro-democracy demonstrations in mainland China from 1989.

Vigorous Police Presence

Police were highly visible at Victoria Park, the traditional site of an annual candlelight vigil for Tiananmen Square that has been suppressed in recent years. Officers patrolled the park and nearby subway stations, detaining individuals who visibly marked the anniversary.

Arrests and Detentions

Police reported four arrests late Tuesday. Among them was a 68-year-old woman accused of chanting slogans deemed seditious under Article 23, a domestic security law introduced this year. This law imposes severe penalties for offenses like sedition, with sentences of up to seven years.

Other arrests included a 24-year-old man and a 69-year-old woman for allegedly attacking police officers and disorderly conduct, and a 23-year-old man for allegedly assaulting two security guards. Notably, the two men were Swiss and Japanese nationals, respectively.

Five additional individuals were taken in for questioning over suspicions of disrupting public peace but were later released.

Acts of Commemoration

An elderly man was removed for holding up handwritten posters listing democracy movements in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Despite folding his papers after a warning, he was led away for “disorderly conduct.” He was reportedly released later.

International Observers and Local Activists

Diplomats from Western countries, trailed by media, were seen outside Victoria Park. Ahead of the anniversary, performance artist Sanmu Chen was detained in Causeway Bay for miming the tomb-sweeping ritual and writing “8964” in the air, symbolizing the date of the crackdown. He was released the same night.

Other reports indicated additional detentions, including an activist shouting, “People will not forget,” and a woman questioned for having her phone flashlight on.

Political and Public Reactions

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee warned against using commemorations as a cover for broader protests, emphasizing the need for vigilance to maintain public order. Former vigil organizer Richard Tsoi highlighted the increased risks under Article 23, which criminalizes sedition, secession, and subversion with harsher penalties.

Private Remembrances

Despite the suppression, some were commemorated privately. An activist posted an image online of a wooden cross and flowers with a card reading “People Will Not Forget” near Victoria Harbor. No arrests have been reported for posting images, though police removed a candle display from a former district councilor’s shop.

The Significance of Tiananmen

The Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 4, 1989, saw government troops fire on student-led pro-democracy protesters, resulting in hundreds, possibly thousands, of deaths. The memory of this event remains contentious, with efforts to suppress public commemorations intensifying under recent security laws.

Voices from the Public

Reactions among Hong Kong residents were mixed. An elderly man suggested letting go of the past to focus on economic stability, while a young mother recalled peaceful vigils from her youth and expressed confusion and helplessness over recent events.

Historical Memory and Education

Tsoi warned that continued suppression could lead future generations to forget the Tiananmen incident, with redacted accounts in textbooks and the removal of related books from libraries. He stressed the importance of remembering and examining this significant event in modern Chinese history.

International Support

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed solidarity with those commemorating the events of June 4, 1989, despite Beijing’s efforts to suppress the memory. Staff at the U.S. consulate and the European Union office in Hong Kong lit candles visible from their windows after dusk.

The ongoing crackdown on commemorations underscores the tense atmosphere in Hong Kong and the broader struggle for human rights and freedom of expression in the region.

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