For the second year in a row, the sea of candlelight that used to illuminate Hong Kong’s Victoria Park on June 4 has been extinguished as authorities attempted to ban all public commemorations of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre – the last place on Chinese controlled soil where they were kept.
But Saturday’s heavy police presence didn’t stop some Hong Kongers from approaching the park and performing their own acts of commemoration — lighting up electronic candles and using flashlights or quietly singing memorial songs.
“It’s heartbreaking to see (Victoria Park) like this,” said a woman named Lau who came to the park with a bouquet of white and red roses and electric candles.
“Hong Kong has sunk quickly and quickly into a police state,” said Lau, a longtime volunteer for the Tiananmen Mothers Campaign, a group that supports the families of the victims.
For three decades, Hong Kong mourned the victims of China’s bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters with a candlelit vigil on the night of June 4, which was to be attended by tens of thousands of people who swear never to forget.
But since 2020, the Hong Kong government has banned the event due to the risks posed by the coronavirus – although many Hong Kongers think it’s just an excuse to crush public opinion after pro-democracy protests swept the city in 2019.
On Friday, a government statement said that large parts of Victoria Park would be closed from Friday evening until the early hours of Sunday to “prevent unauthorized gatherings affecting public safety and order, and to reduce the risk of virus transmission from such gatherings.” to prevent.” †
It came a day after police warned residents risk the offense of “unlawful assembly” if they showed up in the park — even if alone.
Throughout Saturday, large numbers of police officers patrolled the park and neighboring Causeway Bay shopping district.
Among those who stopped and searched them were people who wore black – the color of Hong Kong protest, wore flowers or walked with their phone torches on.
Police later confirmed that they had arrested five men and a woman between the ages of 19 and 80. One was charged with possession of an assault weapon; three were charged with obstructing officers; and they would have urged others to join an unauthorized assembly. It is not clear what the sixth person was charged with.
Police also cordoned off an area of a nearby shopping street where pro-democracy activists would gather in previous years to promote the vigil, and sent some passersby there to be searched.
Still, some people were determined to visit the park and make their own little gestures of remembrance.
Lau, the Tiananmen Mothers Campaign volunteer, held up an electric candle for a photo in front of the barricaded soccer field. She said she and her colleagues had been handing out electric candles to Hongkongers all afternoon – in keeping with the group’s tradition.
“I think the vigil is the most important symbol of people’s pursuit of freedom in Hong Kong — it shows the world our unwavering determination. I believe that tonight we all lit a candle in our hearts, whether or not we choose to to come out or not,” she said.
After nightfall, police closed off more parts of the park and evicted residents with advancing barriers. Eventually all entrances were closed, leaving people alone to leave the park.
In the park, two women sang “Democracy Will Triumph and Return,” one of the traditional vigil songs, as they walked along a jogging track. The police followed not far behind them, pushing the cordon line forward.
Brian, a man in his thirties, dressed entirely in black, turned on his phone’s flashlight at 8:00 p.m., the traditional light-up time. He did this despite having been searched by police earlier in the evening while sitting in the park, when officers noted his ID number. He said he was willing to pay the price.
“The government doesn’t want us to tell the truth. If we don’t come out, I worry that future generations of Hong Kong won’t know anything about June 4,” he said.
Outside the park, people who could no longer enter were walking through nearby streets, some with their phone flashes on.
Joe, 46, brought his 11-year-old daughter to the park but was refused entry. They instead stood at a bus stop across the road, each holding an electric candle.
“The candles are a symbol of Hong Kong’s commemoration, but now it seems that even holding them could be dangerous,” he said.
Still, he was glad he had brought his daughter with him. “I want to let her know as best I can what happened then,” he said.