Tiananmen's birthday, silenced in China, was stealthily commemorated in Hong Kong

Hong Kong residents wishing to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the bloody crackdown on Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Saturday were forced to do so subtly or in private, with police warning that no public gathering would be tolerated.

For 33 years, the Chinese authorities have been doing their best to erase Tiananmen from the collective memory. History textbooks do not mention it. Online discussions on this topic are systematically censored.

Also read: The taboo of Tiananmen

On June 4, 1989, the communist regime sent tanks and troops to crack down on peaceful protesters who had been occupying the iconic Tiananmen Square for weeks to demand political change and an end to systemic corruption. The crash of the movement had claimed hundreds of lives, more than a thousand, according to some estimates.

In Beijing, authorities have installed facial recognition devices on the streets leading to the square. Police, deployed in large numbers, were conducting tentative identity checks on Saturday.

An “unauthorized assembly” punishable by five years in prison

While in China, mentioning the events of 1989 has always been taboo, Hong Kong was an exception until 2020. Beijing then imposed a draconian law on national security in the semi-autonomous region to quell dissent after the huge protests. pro-democracy 2019. Since then, local authorities have been working to erase all traces of Tiananmen’s memory.

Hong Kong police have warned that attending an “unauthorized assembly” could result in five years in prison. This warning applies in particular to Victoria Park, where a candlelight vigil once drew tens of thousands on June 4.

Much of the park was closed as early as Friday night, and many officers were deployed on site on Saturday.

Also read: John Lee, a policeman close to China at the head of Hong Kong

In the nearby Causeway Bay shopping district, an artist who had cut a candle-shaped potato with a lighter was arrested on Friday by a dozen officers.

A Hong Kong resident told AFP that she lit a candle in her home and placed a replica of the “Goddess of Democracy”, the symbol statue of the Tiananmen movement, on a window sill.

“For me and for many Hong Kongers of my generation, June 4 was a political enlightenment,” said the 49-year-old, a high school student at the events who later campaigned for the Hong Kong Alliance. candlelight vigils in the park.

Vigils had already been banned in 2020 and 2021 in the name of fighting Covid-19. Then, last September, the Hong Kong Alliance was disbanded, its June 4 Museum was closed and its leaders arrested.

An unbolted statue

Former Alliance leader Lee Cheuk-yan said in a letter online that he would fast, light a match and sing memorial songs on Saturday in his prison cell. “I believe that the Hong Kong people will join me in marking June 4 in all sincerity, using their own means to express their commitment to democracy,” he wrote.

The lack of clarity on what is legal or not has prompted six Hong Kong universities in recent months to carefully unwrap Tiananmen memorials erected on their campuses. And one of the last ways for Hong Kongers to remember Tiananmen, the annual Catholic Masses, were canceled this year, again for fear of prosecution.

Tiananmen commemoration continues abroad. Dissidents in exile have set up their own museums in the United States. And activists are considering resurrecting the “Pillar of Shame,” one of Hong Kong’s recently unveiled sculptures, in Taiwan.

On Twitter, which is blocked in China, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken paid tribute to the “brave protesters” who had “peacefully demanded democracy in Tiananmen Square” 33 years ago. “Despite the removal of memorials and attempts to erase history, we honor their memory by promoting respect for human rights wherever they are threatened,” he wrote.

Several Western consulates in Hong Kong have posted messages on Tiananmen on social media. The one in the United States put the “Pillar of Shame” on the cover photo of its Facebook page.

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