With Vigil Banned, Hong Kong Activists Commemorate June 4 Privately

For three decades a vigil to commemorate those killed in Beijing on June 4, 1989 was held in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park. It was once the only Tiananmen Square memorial held on Chinese soil. Now, local authorities have used the pretext of coronavirus to ban the annual gathering—attendance can be punished with five years in prison, publicizing it with one. Authorities attempted to block the vigil in 2020 but organizers defied the ban. Some are now imprisoned. Eight other prominent activists and Hong Kong residents were sentenced last week for attending a banned protest on the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China’s founding on October 1, 2019. At The Wall Street Journal, Wenxin Fan wrote about the extraordinary efforts Hong Kong citizens are taking to preserve the memory of June 4:

Many people are tight-lipped about how they mark the occasion. After police banned this year’s vigil, organizers canceled the event and stopped publicizing it. Some regular supporters, however, are expected to dress in black and wander through the park.

[…] Last June 4, [Rowena He, a historian and lead scholar on the Tiananmen movement] stayed on a university campus and lit candles with students next to a statue of the Goddess of Democracy, a Tiananmen-era icon. Doing the same this year could expose students to trouble at a time when student activism is under increased scrutiny, she said.

[…] [Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China] said even if the event was banned, people will still come out at night, but they probably won’t gather in one place.

“The missing candle lights will be symbolic,” he said. [Source]

At The Financial Times, Primrose Riordan, Nicolle Liu, and Tom Mitchell reported on Hong Kong residents’ plans to commemorate June 4 in private—or even behind bars:

Lee Cheuk-yan, a veteran pro-democracy activist and vigil organiser imprisoned over his role in the 2019 protests, told friends he would send smoke signals with a lit cigarette from his jail cell.

[…] Willy Lam, a China expert from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said he expected a handful of mourners to show up, though the government’s “tough tactics” and threats of incarceration were likely to dissuade most from attending.

[…] “It’s getting worse,” said a veteran member of the territory’s pro-Beijing political camp who felt the crackdown had been excessive. “Beijing cannot tolerate even one dissident voice.” [Source]

At The Associated Press, Zen Soo documented yet more ways that activists plan to commemorate the anniversary:

Online calls circulating on social media also urged residents to dress in black on Friday. Local newspaper Ming Pao last week published an article suggesting that residents write the numbers six and four on their light switches — a nod to the June 4 date — so each flip of the switch is also an act of remembrance.

[…] This year, Chan plans to remember the event privately, dressing in black and changing his profile picture on social media to an image of a lit candle in the dark.

“I’ve resolved to never forget about June 4, and strive to pass on memories of it to ensure it’s never forgotten,” he said. [Source]

The “tough tactics” predicted by Willy Lam will be enforced by a team of more than 3,000 anti-riot police drawn from the elite Police Tactical Unit. An anonymous senior police officer told the South China Morning Post, “A lenient approach on unauthorised assemblies is not expected, as our operations need to bring deterrent effects after courts handed down lengthy jail terms to protesters.” A 65-year-old woman who held a solo protest in a Hong Kong park by holding a sign reading “32, June 4, Tiananmen’s lament” and carrying a yellow umbrella was arrested by police as she marched to Beijing’s liaison office. According to the South China Morning Post, she said, “I’m only by myself, just an old lady here. Why stop me?” Others also defied the ban:

In Hong Kong’s media and arts world, authorities are enforcing a parallel crackdown. Hong Kong’s most trusted broadcaster, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), has already been decimated by staff firings and the deletion of all its old content (see CDT’s timeline). Now, journalists at RTHK tell The Guardian’s Helen Davidson that they are blocked from reporting on Tiananmen:

After a highly critical government review found RTHK to have deficiencies in editorial management and accountability in February, the then director, Leung Ka-wing, left before the end of his contract, farewelled without thanks. A least five other senior staff have also resigned. Leung was replaced by former deputy home affairs secretary Patrick Li, a career bureaucrat with no journalism experience, who told legislators he intends to be hands on with the broadcaster, with plans for programs promoting government policies, and mainland media collaborations.

One of Li’s first acts was to establish vetting and approval processes for all story pitches, including proposed interviewees, which is what Emily says meant the Tiananmen coverage was rejected.

[…] Based on the panel’s guidelines, RTHK has cut back or cancelled at least 10 programs – including an already-aired segment about the Tiananmen anniversary last week – and deleted entire online archives.

[…] “I think June 4 is the point where we’ll see the death of the media: if no one can go to the memorial or if those who report will be arrested or punished, then we’ll understand the freedom is gone.” [Source]

New guidelines in Hong Kong schools mandating curriculum on “national security, lawfulness, and patriotism,” have forced teachers to abandon their long-standing tradition of educating students about the 1989 crackdown. “If the national security law was not in place, I would continue doing so this year, but I won’t, because I don’t know where the red lines lie,” a teacher told The SCMP. Those interested in learning about the crackdown from Hong Kong’s June 4 Memorial Museum will also be unable to do so—authorities forced it to close on June 1. From Lilit Marcus at CNN:

On June 1, Hong Kong officials from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) visited the museum in the working-class area of Mong Kok and accused the organizers of operating a “place of public entertainment” illegally.

[…] This year, [Lee Cheuk-yan, the museum’s chairman,] will spend June 4 behind bars. In April, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for organizing and participating in unauthorized government protests in 2019. He faces further charges for other actions.

[…] The most moving pieces are the personal ones — a Peking University T-shirt signed by activists, a bullet pulled from the leg of a labor organizer, a camera owned by a student who was shot while snapping pictures of the day’s events, and photographs the same student’s parents had developed posthumously. [Source]

At Mekong Review, Jeffrey Wasserstrom noted that June 4 memorials held abroad are now headlined by two groups of exiles: Tiananmen veterans and Hong Kong activists:

There was also a novel feature of the 2020 June Fourth commemorations held outside of the PRC that will be repeated but have added meaning in 2021. In these commemorations, one group that has always played a role is Tiananmen exiles, including some who escaped from the PRC in 1989 to Hong Kong. Last year, those Tiananmen veterans were joined at commemorative events for the first time by a small number of exiles from Hong Kong who had left the city they love to avoid being persecuted for their role in the 2019 events. [Source]


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