Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Hong Kongers gather despite COVID-19 ban on Tiananmen vigil

Police erect barricades to shut protestors out of Victoria Park. Protestors turn these barricades into benches. June 4, 2020. Photo by Rachel Cheung. @rachel_cheung1

Despite a public gathering ban, crowds gathered at Victoria Park and other busy districts to observe the vigil of the Tiananmen Massacre and express grievances over China’s tightening grip. Earlier in the day, Hong Kong’s year-long protest against the Chinese extradition bill saw China consolidating power on the island with Hong Kong’s LegCo passing a bill banning insults of the Chinese national anthem. 

On May 19, Hong Kong extended its ban on public gatherings of more than eight people to June 4, the very day the Chinese government was accused of killing thousands before the Forbidden City gate 31 years ago. After the 30th annual vigil in 2019, numbers at the vigil this year were anticipated to remain high amid local protests against Chinese extradition bill, police violence and the recently proposed national security bill. 

The ban on public gatherings was later extended to June 18 due to sporadic community infections of COVID-19 in Hong Kong. Some Hong Kongers denounced the ban as a deliberate tactic to prevent the annual candlelight vigil for Tiananmen from taking place amidst reviving protests.

The organizer of the vigil, The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, called for individual vigils “wherever you are” on their official website. They planned to attend the vigil in groups of eight to avoid violating the public gathering ban, but police said attempts to split up into smaller groups would still be considered illegal, according to the South China Morning Post. 

As the sun set on the evening of June 4, silver barricades lay by the foot of the entrance at Victoria Park after members of the Alliance removed them. People attending the vigil  sat a few metres apart to observe social distance before more arrived. At 8 p.m., Hong Kongers holding white candles gathered in areas like Whampoa, Mongkok and Victoria Park despite the ban. 

This is the first occasion that the vigil was banned in Hong Kong. 

Typically, hundreds of thousands legally attend the vigil while internet censors in mainland China are stricter than usual on this day. Last year, on the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen, real-time comments on some mainland China’s video-streaming websites were disabled for the week. 

This large gathering came together after the island’s legislature passed a controversial national anthem law hours before the 30-year tradition. The Chinese national anthem law bans any insult of the national anthem, such as altering its lyrics or singing it in a “disrespectful way,” rendering protestors who use the Chinese national anthem in their protests illegal. 

Throughout the day, hashtags such as “#6431”, referring to the 31st year commemorating June 4th, and “#8964”, June 4th of 1989,and “#TiananmenSquareMassacre” trended on Twitter. Videos on Twitter also showed people wave protest flags and shout protest slogans. 

In Mong Kok, a district famous for nightlife and shopping, riot police arrived after 9p.m. covered with surgical masks and raised the blue flag, a familiar sight in Hong Kong to disperse protests deemed illegal over the past months. 

Shortly after the riot police left, plainclothes police officers subdued and arrested a few people after protesters tried to block roads after the vigil at Mong Kok. More than 3000 riot police officers were said to have been deployed to enforce the ban against public gatherings, according to the South China Morning Post on Wednesday. 

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo met with Wang Dan, Su Xiaokang, Liane Lee and Henry Li, high-profile survivors of the Tiananmen protests, in Washington and tweeted about the gathering ban on June 2. 

The protests in Hong Kong have taken on a new agenda after China approved national security law that criminalizes succession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong. Demosisto leader Joshua Wong called on European leaders to “be more vocal on the expansionist communist party in China” While European leaders have not responded to China’s national security law collectively, the United Kingdom is set to offer three million Hong Kongers visas and pathways to citizenship. Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen also pledged to help Hong Kongers who wish to leave.

Meanwhile, vigils to commemorate Tiananmen were also held in Taiwan and Australia. 



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