Activists in Hong Kong on Thursday put a bust of late Nobel peace laureate and political prisoner Liu Xiaobo on display in the middle of a bustling shopping district, ahead of a planned vigil to commemorate those who died in a 1989 military crackdown on the student-led protests in Tiananmen Square.
Rights activists also collected signatures calling for the release of Liu's widow Liu Xia, who has been held under house arrest since her husband's award was announced in October 2010, despite having been accused of no crime.
Organizers say they plan to take the bust to the annual June 4 vigil to remind people of Liu Xiaobo's contribution to China's pro-democracy movement.
Former League of Social Democrats (LSD) lawmaker and event organizer Tsang Kin-shing said Liu's attempt to move China towards a more democratic and accountable form of government is now being keenly felt in Hong Kong, where the 2014 Occupy Central movement failed to achieve universal suffrage.
"China may have taken off economically speaking, but it is lagging far behind in terms of democratic development," Tsang told RFA on Thursday. "Hong Kong is like that too."
"But things are even worse for Liu Xia in mainland China; she has been under continuous house arrest for more than seven years," he said. "We want to pay our respects to the dead, but also to achieve freedom for the living, as soon as possible."
Fong Zee-yeung, who heads the Hong Kong Federation of Social Work Students, said many in the former British colony draw similarities between the 1989 protests on Tiananmen Square, and Occupy Central.
"We see many similarities between the 1989 protests and our democracy movement here in Hong Kong," Fong said. "We believe that it is our duty as students to engage in student movements; we are willing to sacrifice more for our community because of our status as students."
"We hope that we will be able to keep alive the spirit of the 1989 movement here in Hong Kong," he said.
Fong said his union won't be attending the vigil, however, owing to disagreements in principle over the main focus of the event.
"We may not attend the Patriotic Alliance's event, but we will be speaking out in the spirit of the 1989 Beijing Spring."
Hong Kong lawyer Albert Ho, head of protest organizers the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, said it is hard to tell yet whether the younger generation born after the Tiananmen massacre have less emotional connection to it.
"You could interpret it in that way, that students are rethinking it, or care less about it, but it is also possible that they are more alienated [than we were]," Ho said. "We don't need to put labels on it, though, as if that movement only belonged to a single generation."
"I think we have much more in common, such as the determination to pursue peace, freedom and humanitarian ideals, and to hold to account a regime that violently suppresses its people," he said.
Ho declined to estimate the numbers attending the June 4 vigil.
Liu died on July 13, 2017 of late-stage liver cancer, while serving an 11-year jail term for subversion.
Eyewitnesses say he played a crucial role in negotiating a truce between student protesters and People's Liberation Army troops sent in to end the protests at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on the night of June 3-4, 1989, enabling hundreds to leave safely.
He was later arrested for his role in the protests, which included a high-profile hunger strike, and jailed for more than 18 months as a "black hand behind a counterrevolutionary riot."
The government styled the 1989 student-led democracy protests, sparked in April 1989 by the death of much-loved liberal premier Hu Yaobang, a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."
Public memorials and discussions of the events of June 1989 are banned, with activists who seek to commemorate the bloodshed often detained, and veteran dissidents placed under police surveillance or detention during each anniversary.
Victims' families are permitted to make private memorial ceremonies at the graves of the victims, usually under escort by the state security police.
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.