For Now, Hong Kong Remains a Focus For Tiananmen Massacre Anniversary


2015.06.01
china-hongkongdemo-may312015.jpg Pro-democracy demonstrators march to Beijing's Liaison Office in Hong Kong, May 31, 2015.
RFA

Many of the hundreds of thousands of people who thronged the streets at the height of Hong Kong's 79-day Umbrella Movement for universal suffrage last year said they did so partly out of fear that the city's traditional freedoms may be fast eroding.

For now, however, Hong Kong remains a focus for activists and political commentators wishing to mark the sensitive anniversary of China's June 4, 1989 military crackdown on weeks of student-led pro-democracy protests in Beijing.

While the sensitive topic is banned from public debate across the internal border in mainland China, where those who mark the massacre or call for justice for its victims often end up in jail, thousands took to the streets of Hong Kong Island on Sunday in a march to Beijing's representative office in the territory to call for a reappraisal of the crackdown.

Chanting slogans and carrying banners calling on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to "Overturn the verdict on June 4," demonstrators marched to the Central Government Liaison Office, which is increasingly becoming a focus for protest in the city since the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

More events will follow, not least the now-traditional candlelight vigil in Victoria Park, which this year will also remember the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement.

"Apart from [Sunday's] demonstration, we also call on people to gather on [Thursday] at 8.00 p.m. in Victoria Park to continue to light the candles of conscience, and to continue our fight for a reappraisal of June 4, 1989," Richard Choi, deputy chairman of event organizers the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, told RFA.

'Our demands are the same'

Sunday's demonstrators have already given hints of an irrevocable association between the Occupy Central movement and the 1989 pro-democracy protests in the minds of Hong Kong activists.

At the start of the march, demonstrators opened dozens of yellow umbrellas, the icon of the Umbrella Movement since protesters used them to ward off pepper spray attacks from riot police on Sept. 28, 2014.

"The Communist Party's massacre of students who called for democracy and freedom is proof that the party aren't herbivores," one protester told RFA on Sunday.

"I am taking part in the demonstration so as to perpetuate the spirit of June 4," the protester said.

Meanwhile, Labour Party lawmaker and trade unionist Lee Cheuk-yan brushed aside reports of deep divisions in Hong Kong's activist body in the wake of the Occupy movement, which have resulted in a boycott of the Victoria Park vigil by the city's student federation.

"Our demands are the same: the reappraisal of the verdict on June 4, and an end to a single-party dictatorship," Lee said.

He said a controversial package of electoral reforms that was endorsed by Beijing on Aug. 31, and which sparked the Umbrella Movement, will soon be presented with no amendments to Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo).

"This year, it is also the year of the reform package, and ... the Chinese Communist Party has slapped down our demand for universal suffrage as well," Lee said.

"This puts the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement right on the front line of the struggle," he said.

Limited choices

Under the electoral reform plan, all of Hong Kong's five million voters will be eligible to cast a ballot in the 2017 race for the next chief executive, but they may only choose between candidates approved by Beijing.

The arrangement has been rejected as "fake universal suffrage" by pan-democratic lawmakers, who have vowed to block the package in LegCo later this month in spite of a meeting on Sunday with Chinese officials.

Lee said the Hong Kong democracy movement won't accept defeat: "We will fight, not just for universal suffrage within Hong Kong itself, but also for China to move towards democracy," he said.

Lee said Hong Kong activists are acutely aware that dozens of mainland Chinese activists have been jailed or held in long periods of detention for their open support of the Umbrella Movement.

Across the border, authorities in the southwestern province of Sichuan on Monday detained veteran rights activist Huang Qi, whose Tianwang website was originally set up to track down the victims of the 1989 crackdown.

Huang, who was detained for questioning amid a nationwide clampdown on dissent ahead of the anniversary, said police came to his home at around 9.00 a.m. local time and took him to the police station.

In a brief interview on Monday, Huang said he was questioned by state security police from Sichuan's Guang'an city about his possible involvement in a demonstration there.

Huang said he had denied taking part, and returned home after being released at around 8.00 p.m. the same day.

Demand for accountability

Victims' group the Tiananmen Mothers said it has continued its bid to hold Beijing to account for the crackdown, according to a statement issued Monday via the overseas group Human Rights in China.

"We ask for a public and just resolution to the June Fourth issue," the statement said.

It called on the Chinese government to reinvestigate the events of June 1989, to make public full details of all those who died, and to provide an explanation and compensation to the family of each of the victims

"[We also demand the government] prosecute those criminally responsible for the June Fourth tragedy. In summary, we seek truth, compensation, and accountability," the group said.

Back in Hong Kong, Nathan Law, secretary general of the city's student federation, also brushed aside the disappointment of many activists that his group wouldn't be attending the vigil, as it has in previous years.

"All we want is for the historical truth to be admitted and recognized, and to remind people of the spirit of June 4 and of the 1989 pro-democracy movement," Law told reporters.

Law, who has said the vigil has become a ritual that lacks fighting spirit, said plans for separate memorial events won't lessen the impact of the anniversary for Hong Kong.

"Personally, I don't see why it's a problem to have separate memorial events," Law said.

Sensitive questions examined

Meanwhile, a political analysis by a U.S.-based Chinese academic has hit bookstores in Hong Kong, amid fears that the recent takeover of a major Hong Kong publishing chain by a Beijing-backed company will bring books in the once freewheeling city within reach of Chinese censors.

Titled Changing China: Chinese Political Thought in The Wake of June 4, 1989, the book's publication is timed to resonate with the public mood at a somber time for Hong Kong's activists and pan-democratic politicians, its author said.

"The book is being published now because it is the 26th anniversary of June 4," Columbia University political science professor Zhang Boshu, who was in Beijing at the time of the massacre, said.

"In the past 26 years, there have been huge changes in China," Zhang said. "From the perspective of Chinese intellectuals, these changes have been severe."

"We have not only seen an end to the reforms of the 1980s, including political reforms, but also the emergence of today's elite, who exist because of the combination of market economics and a political monopoly on power," Zhang said.

He said his book engages in particular with the sensitive question of how China's political elite came by its wealth, where the most important social tensions lie, and in what direction China could evolve in the future.

"Since Xi Jinping came to power, we have seen one aspect of his rule: the fierce anti-corruption campaign, which we can say has won him public support," Zhang said.

"His anti-corruption stance is much tougher than that of any of his predecessors. But at the same time, Xi Jinping has strengthened government control of ideology, of the media, and of higher education ... over liberal intellectuals, and [his crackdown] is anti-constitutional," he said.

Beijing has never published full details of deaths and injuries from the June 3-4 crackdown, when the People's Liberation Army (PLA) deployed troops with tanks and machine guns to clear democracy protesters who had paralysed central Beijing for several weeks.

Chinese officials have ignored growing calls for a reappraisal of the official position that the crackdown was a necessary response to a counter-revolutionary rebellion, and last year arrested dozens of high-profile activists after they organized a seminar to discuss the event ahead of the 25th anniversary.

Among them, veteran political journalist Gao Yu was jailed for seven years in April for "leaking state secrets overseas," while prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang faces up to 10 years' imprisonment for each of the two public order and ethnic hatred charges against him.

Reported by Lin Jing and Yin Kejing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan and Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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