The semi-autonomous territories of Hong Kong and nearby Macao were for years the last places on Chinese soil allowed to publicly commemorate the events of June 4, 1989, when the People’s Liberation Army opened fire on student-led protesters in a repression that left hundreds of people. , if not thousands, dead.
Before last year, tens of thousands gathered annually in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, lighting candles and singing songs to remember the victims. But authorities, citing the coronavirus pandemic, are banning that vigil for the second year in a row. And a museum dedicated to the event suddenly closed Wednesday, just two days before Friday’s anniversary, after authorities investigated it for lacking the necessary licenses to hold a public display.
Hong Kong’s security minister warned residents last week not to participate in unauthorized gatherings.
In mainland China, younger generations have grown up with little knowledge or debate about the crackdown, but efforts to crack down on commemorations in Hong Kong reflect yet another turn of the screw in Beijing’s increasingly strict control of Hong Kong following massive protests. against the government in Hong Kong. 2019. Those demonstrations turned into months of sometimes violent clashes between smaller groups of protesters and the police. And they have led to a broader crackdown on dissent in the former British colony, which was long an oasis of capitalism and democracy and was promised to largely maintain its freedoms for 50 years when it returned to China in 1997.
Since the protests, China has imposed a sweeping national security law designed in part to toughen penalties for actions protesters participated in, and authorities have tried to arrest nearly all prominent and outspoken pro-democracy figures. from the city. Most are behind bars or have fled the city.
Despite this year’s restrictions, Hong Kong residents are being asked to remember the 1989 crackdown in private, and the organizers of the vigil are asking residents to light a candle at 8 p.m. Friday, no matter where. be found.
Online calls circulating on social media also urged residents to wear black on Friday. The 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 date of June 4, so each press of the switch is also a act of remembrance.
For decades, Chan Kin Wing has regularly attended the vigil in Hong Kong.
“ I was lucky to have been born in Hong Kong. If he was born on the mainland, he could have been one of the students in Tiananmen Square that day, ” said Chan, whose parents had fled to Hong Kong from the mainland in the 1960s.
“ When it happened on June 4, 1989, all of Hong Kong witnessed the indelible historical event of the students massacred by a corrupt regime, ” Chan said.
This year, Chan plans to remember the event in private, dressing in black and swapping his profile picture on social media for a picture of a candle burning in the dark.
“ I decided to never forget June 4 and will strive to pass on memories to make sure it is never forgotten, ” he said.
In mainland China, the Tiananmen Mothers group representing the victims’ families published an appeal on the China Human Rights website urging the party to heed its long-standing demands for a full release of official records on the repression, compensation for the dead and wounded. , and hold those responsible accountable.
“ We look forward to the day when the CCP and the Chinese government can set things straight with sincerity and courage and take their due responsibility for the 1989 anti-human massacre in accordance with the law and the facts, ” the statement said. .
The government, however, seems determined to run out of time on such appeals.
While the Tiananmen Mothers said 62 of its members have died since the group was founded in the late 1990s, many young Chinese, he said, “ have grown up in a false sense of prosperous glee and forced glorification of the government. (and) have no idea or refuse to believe what happened on June 4, 1989 in the nation’s capital. ”
In Hong Kong, recent arrests and convictions of prominent activists have had a chilling effect on those who participated in the vigil in the past, said Chow Hang Tung, vice president of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of China’s Democratic Patriotic Movements. which operates the museum from June 4.
“ Obviously there will be fear and people cannot just assume that they can come and express their memory for the victims of the Tiananmen massacre and come out unscathed, ” he said.
Chow said that what keeps her going is the dream that China and Hong Kong can one day have democracy. However, the tide seems to be going in the other direction.
“ This is something worth fighting for, ” he said. “ If one day we cannot talk about Tiananmen, that would mean that Hong Kong is fully assimilated into Chinese society. ”