Commemorations in Hong Kong of the Tiananmen Square massacre were largely snuffed out and six people were arrested, as authorities crushed observance of the crackdown on student protesters in 1989.
The anniversary is one of the most sensitive events for Chinese authorities, with discussion of the demonstrations censored on the mainland and survivors or victims’ families routinely detained or interrogated.
Hong Kong hosted the largest annual commemoration on Chinese territory every June 4 until it was banned in 2020, a year after pro-democracy protests engulfed the financial centre. Authorities subsequently suppressed opposition and Beijing extended its control of the quasi-autonomous city.
The arrests were made near Victoria Park, where tens of thousands of residents have typically lit candles to commemorate the event. They included a 69-year-old veteran activist who stood outside the park wearing a mask with the words “mourning June 4”. Police alleged that he was “inciting others to participate in an unauthorised assembly”.
Western embassies in Hong Kong also defied Beijing’s warnings that they should “ditch political tricks” over June 4, with the US and EU consulates among a number of diplomatic representatives to display candles in the windows of their offices.
Officials said the ban in 2020 was to control the coronavirus pandemic but critics accused the government of using the health crisis as a pretext for stifling dissent.
Leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the group which traditionally organised the vigil, have been arrested and many are in jail.
Authorities closed Victoria Park this year from Friday night until early Sunday morning and a heavy police presence on Saturday prevented access but some residents found discreet ways to commemorate the massacre.
The Catholic church has marked the event in special masses for more than three decades but has been stung by the arrest of Cardinal Zen, its former top cleric, last month. He was accused of failing to register a fund set up to help pay the legal and medical fees of participants in the 2019 protests. Cardinal Zen has denied the charges.
At a morning mass in Kowloon on Saturday, about 30 people prayed for those “who died for justice” despite the Catholic diocese cancelling services to mark the massacre.
“Public memorials may be gone this year, but what I remember in my heart, you cannot make it disappear,” said one congregant.
Some individuals held up electronic candles and mobile phone lights near Victoria Park as night fell, saying they wanted to “keep the memory alive”.
Others left electronic candles in phone booths, while officers stopped and surrounded a white vehicle with the licence plate “US 8964”, a reference to the date of the massacre.
Hong Kong students have also found ways to quietly mark the event. Universities have been a focal point of Beijing’s attempts to destroy support for the 2019 pro-democracy protests and longstanding memorials to the Tiananmen Square massacre on campuses have been removed.
The “Pillar of Shame”, an eight-metre sculpture by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt that was on display at the University of Hong Kong since 1997, was dismantled last December.
The “Goddess of Democracy” statue at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, a replica of a monument erected by the student protesters in Tiananmen Square, was removed that month.
CUHK students this week created tiny replicas of the missing artwork and hid them around the campus for others to find before the event was ended due to “increasing risks”, the organisers said.
In Macau, one of the only other parts of China where memorial events were held until they were banned from 2020, no public commemorations took place after authorities said last year’s events could constitute “subversion”.
Tiananmen Square vigils and memorials were held in Taiwan and other countries this weekend, including a demonstration outside China’s Embassy in London where protesters displayed a large cardboard tank replica.