Thousands of police were deployed in Hong Kong on Friday and the organizer of the now-banned annual vigil in China’s Tiananmen Square repression territory was stopped to prevent people from gathering to remember the events of 1989.
Hong Kong usually has one massive vigil to remember the dead when soldiers stormed the plaza, full of protesters calling for democracy, but police have banned the events for the past two years blaming the coronavirus pandemic.
This year is the first to be celebrated since China was imposed national security legislation in Hong Kong that punishes anything Beijing considers subversion, secession, “terrorism,” or collusion with foreign forces jailed for life.
Police have not clarified whether the commemoration of the crackdown, which has been virtually erased from history on the peninsula, violates the law, but a statement on Thursday afternoon said any rally posed “considerable threats to the public health and life “and warned that those participating in” unauthorized assemblies “could face up to five years in prison.
“Police will deploy the right manpower in relevant places on the day and take decisive action to enforce the law, including arrest,” police said.
Some 7,000 officers will conduct arrest and search operations throughout the day, according to public broadcaster RTHK, which cited unnamed sources.
Hong Kong was promised unknown political and civic freedoms on the mainland when it returned to the Chinese government in 1997, but since the national security law was enacted nearly a year ago, dozens of pro-government activists and politicians have Democrats, including popularly elected lawmakers, have been arrested and some jailed. Others have gone into exile.
Chow Hang-tung, vice president of the Hong Kong Alliance for Support of China’s Patriotic Democratic Movements, which organizes the annual vigil, was arrested Friday morning by plainclothes officers in front of her downtown office.
A police source told the AFP news agency that Chow was detained under section 17A of the public order ordinance, which includes advertising illegal assemblies.
The chief executive of the territory, Carrie Lam, has not made any comment on the commemorations, saying only that the citizens must respect the law, as well as the Communist Party, which is celebrating its centenary next month.
Tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong defied the watch ban last year, gathering in the city’s Victoria Park as it did 30 years ago and lighting candles.
Many plan to re-light candles in their neighborhood if they are sure they will. Some churches will be open to prayers.
Imprisoned activist Jimmy Sham said via his Facebook page that he planned to “light a cigarette at eight in the evening.”
“We do not see the hope of democracy and freedom in a leader, a group or a ceremony. Each of us is the hope of democracy and freedom.
Prominent activist Joshua Wong received a 10-month prison sentence last month pleading guilty to participating in last year’s eve, while three others received sentences of four to six months. Twenty more people will have to go to court on June 11 for similar charges.
The Hong Kong Alliance has said it would withdraw calls for people to show up at Victoria Park and not make an online commemoration like 2020.
Its president Lee Cheuk-yan is in jail for an illegal meeting.
On Wednesday, the June 4 Hong Kong museum said it would temporarily close due to an investigation into whether it had a public entertainment venue license.
Tiananmen commemorations are banned in China and Macau’s semi-autonomous territory has also banned June 4 activities.
On the democratic island of Taiwan, a memorial pavilion will be set up in Taipei Freedom Square, where people will be able to lay flowers following the rules of social distancing. A light emitting diode or a 64-light LED installation will also be installed in the square.
China has never provided a full account of what happened in 1989. The death toll given by officials days later was about 300, mostly soldiers, but advocacy groups and witnesses say thousands could have died .