Scores detained in Hong Kong on Tiananmen crackdown anniversary

Restrictions in Hong Kong have stifled what were once the biggest vigils marking the bloody crackdown by Chinese troops on pro-democracy demonstrators

June 04, 2023 05:55 pm | Updated 05:55 pm IST - HONG KONG/TAIPEI

Police detain a woman with paper flowers in downtown on the 34th anniversary of the 1989 Beijing’s Tiananmen Square crackdown, near where the candlelight vigil is usually held, in Hong Kong, on June 4, 2023.

Police detain a woman with paper flowers in downtown on the 34th anniversary of the 1989 Beijing’s Tiananmen Square crackdown, near where the candlelight vigil is usually held, in Hong Kong, on June 4, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Hong Kong police searched and detained scores of people on June 4, four arrested for "seditious" intent, as authorities tightened security for the 34th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Restrictions in Hong Kong have stifled what were once the biggest vigils marking the bloody crackdown by Chinese troops on pro-democracy demonstrators, leaving cities like Taipei, London, New York and Berlin to keep alive the memory on the June 4 anniversary.

Also read | Hong Kong activists behind Tiananmen vigil jailed for months

Commemorations are expected on Sunday in at least 30 places in North America, Europe and Asia.

In a statement, police said four people had been arrested for seditious intent and four detained for "breaching public peace" near Victoria Park, where for years after 1989 activists and regular citizens gathered on the Tiananmen Square anniversary.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is featured on a video promoting China at a trade fair organized by pro-Beijing groups in Victoria Park, on the 34th anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown in Hong Kong, on June 4, 2023.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is featured on a video promoting China at a trade fair organized by pro-Beijing groups in Victoria Park, on the 34th anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown in Hong Kong, on June 4, 2023. | Photo Credit: AP

This year, authorities gave permission for pro-Beijing groups to hold a food carnival in part of the park, while sealing off other areas with barricades.

Hundreds of police conducted stop and search operations, and took scores of people away, including activist Alexandra Wong, 67, who carried a bouquet of flowers, and a man who held a copy of "35th of May", a play on the Tiananmen crackdown.

Also read | Hong Kong not becoming 'police state', says city's top cop

Hong Kong activists say such police action is part of a broad campaign by China to crush dissent in the city that was promised continued freedoms for 50 years under a "one country, two systems" formula when former colonial power Britain handed it back in 1997.

Security is significantly tighter across Hong Kong this year, with up to 6,000 police deployed, including riot and anti-terrorism officers, according to local media.

Senior officials have warned people to abide by the law, but have refused to clarify if such commemoration activities are illegal under a national security law China imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 after mass pro-democracy protests.

In Beijing, Tiananmen Square was thronged with tourists taking pictures under the watchful eyes of police and other personnel but with no obvious sign of stepped-up security.

Residents past by a a police van parked in front of Tiananmen Gate in Beijing, Sunday, June 4, 2023. China tightened already strict access to Tiananmen Square in central Beijing on Sunday, the anniversary of 1989 pro-democracy protests.

Residents past by a a police van parked in front of Tiananmen Gate in Beijing, Sunday, June 4, 2023. China tightened already strict access to Tiananmen Square in central Beijing on Sunday, the anniversary of 1989 pro-democracy protests. | Photo Credit: AP

A group of relatives called the Tiananmen Mothers said the anguish never ended.

"Though 34 years have passed, for us, family members of those killed, the pain of losing our loved ones in that one night has tormented us to this day," the group said in a statement released by the New York-based watchdog Human Rights in China.

'Clear conclusion'

Despite the warnings in Hong Kong, some individuals including some book shop owners, have been quietly marking June 4.

Jailed Hong Kong activist Chow Hang-tung, one of the leaders of a group called The Alliance, which used to organise Hong Kong's annual June 4 vigils before it was disbanded in 2021, said on Facebook she would hold a 34-hour hunger strike.

In mainland China, any mention of the Tiananmen Square crackdown — where troops opened fire on pro-democracy protesters, killing hundreds if not thousands, according to rights groups — is taboo and the subject is heavily censored.

 In this June 5, 1989 file photo, Chinese troops and tanks gather in Beijing, one day after the military crackdown that ended a seven week pro-democracy demonstration on Tiananmen Square.

In this June 5, 1989 file photo, Chinese troops and tanks gather in Beijing, one day after the military crackdown that ended a seven week pro-democracy demonstration on Tiananmen Square. | Photo Credit: AP

Also read | My Tiananmen memories: An extract from ‘Tiananmen Square: The Making of a Protest’ by Vijay Gokhale 

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning, asked about the government's response to events around the world to mark the anniversary, told a regular briefing in Beijing on Friday that the government had already "come to a clear conclusion about the political turmoil in the late 1980s".

In democratically governed Taiwan, the only part of the Chinese-speaking world when the anniversary can be marked freely and openly, activists prepared a memorial at Taipei's Liberty Square with flowers of mourning and a "Pillar of Shame" statue.

Vice President William Lai, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's candidate in a presidential election next January, wrote on his Facebook page that what happened in Beijing in 1989 must be discussed and remembered.

A man puts a candle at the Liberty Square of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall to mark the 34th anniversary of Beijing Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, in Taipei on June 4, 2023.

A man puts a candle at the Liberty Square of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall to mark the 34th anniversary of Beijing Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, in Taipei on June 4, 2023. | Photo Credit: AFP

"The event commemorating June 4 has continued to be held in Taipei, which shows that democracy and authoritarianism are the biggest differences between Taiwan and China," he said.

In Sydney, dozens of demonstrators rallied at the Town Hall, chanting "free Hong Kong", while holding up yellow umbrellas and placards in remembrance of 1989.

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