Hong Kong deployed heavy security near a major park on Saturday as it warned people not to gather to commemorate China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square 33 years ago, as Taiwan decried efforts to erase the memories.
Saturday marks the anniversary of Chinese troops opening fire to end the student-led unrest in and around the square in central Beijing. China has never provided a full death toll, but rights groups and witnesses say the figure could run into the thousands.
“To remember is to resist,” prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Teng Biao told Reuters from the US. “If nobody remembers, the suffering of the people will never stop and the perpetrators will continue their crimes with impunity.”
Chinese authorities ban any public commemoration of the event on the mainland, and the Hong Kong authorities have clamped down too.
In Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, where people had come together for an annual vigil before the pandemic hit, authorities blocked off main parts of the venue and warned residents against illegal gatherings.
Soccer pitches and basketball courts, which would usually be full on a Saturday, lay empty as hundreds of police, some with sniffer dogs, patrolled the area.
The city’s leader, Carrie Lam, said this week that any events to commemorate those killed in the 1989 crackdown would be subject to national security laws.
“Everyone is remaining silent because they are terrified of getting arrested,” Hong Kong resident Victor, 57, said inside Victoria Park.
China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in June 2020 punishing acts of subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
Since the legislation was imposed, people or organisations affiliated with the sensitive June 4 date and events to mark it have been targeted.
Activists have been jailed, the alliance that organised the annual vigil disbanded, the June 4th Museum closed its physical location and reopened online and two universities removed the Pillar of Shame — an artwork of anguished human torsos — and the Goddess of Democracy statues from their campuses.
Hong Kong has banned the annual vigil since 2020, citing coronavirus restrictions. Some democracy campaigners accuse authorities of using those rules to suppress activism, a claim that officials reject.
In Chinese-claimed but staunchly democratic Taiwan, where public commemorations are due on Saturday in Taipei, President Tsai Ing-wen decried the “collective memory of June 4 being systematically erased in Hong Kong”.
“But we believe that such brute force cannot erase people's memories,” she posted on her Facebook and Instagram pages.“When democracy is threatened and authoritarianism in the world is expanding, we need to uphold democratic values.”