No one attended an annual candlelight vigil inside Hong Kong’s Victoria Park on Friday, but hundreds of people gathered in the streets outside to remember China’s deadly crackdown on the Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 as Hong Kong police cordoned off much of the park to prevent gatherings.
Police arrested an organizer of the vigil earlier today and warned people not to attend the banned event, with authorities silencing China’s remaining pro-democracy voices.
For decades, Hong Kong was one of only two cities in China allowed to mark the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square.
In 1989, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in the square to demand democracy, less censorship and greater freedom of expression.
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On June 4 of the same year, the Chinese army converged on the square with orders to clean it up, open fire and arrest the demonstrators. Estimates of the number of people killed range from hundreds to several thousand.
China’s official verdict is that the largely peaceful protests were aimed at overthrowing the ruling Communist Party and plunging the country into chaos. China has censored all mention of the event online.
Every June 4, thousands of people gathered in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to mourn the victims of the crackdown, lighting candles and singing songs in remembrance.
This year, however, authorities in Hong Kong banned the vigil for the second year in a row, citing social distancing restrictions and public health risks linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the ban and a heavy police presence, hundreds of people still showed up on Friday evening to walk outside the park. Many have lit their cell phones or lit candles.
Vigils have also been held every year in Macau, although authorities have also banned them in the past two years, citing the pandemic.
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Critics say authorities are using the pandemic as an excuse to silence pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong as Beijing tightens control over the semi-autonomous city after months of anti-government protests in 2019.
Last year, thousands of people gathered in Victoria Park despite the ban and police warnings. A few weeks later, the police arrested more than 20 activists who participated in the vigil.
Organizers urged residents to mark June 4 in private this year by lighting a candle wherever they are.
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