Hong Kong police arrest activists marking 1989 Tiananmen massacre anniversary

A British flag-waving protester and an opposition party leader are arrested and a journalist is held
By Hwang Chun-mei and Amelia Loi for RFA Mandarin, Jojo Man and Lee Yuk Yue for RFA Cantonese
Hong Kong police arrest activists marking 1989 Tiananmen massacre anniversary Police detain a woman with paper flowers on the 34th anniversary of the 1989 Beijing's Tiananmen Square crackdown, near where the candlelight vigil is usually held, in Hong Kong, June 4, 2023.
Credit: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Hong Kong police have arrested several activists who publicly marked the 34th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre in a sign that Beijing will not tolerate freedom of expression to remember victims of the crackdown.

They included British flag-waving protester Alexandra "Grandma" Wong and opposition party leader Chan Po-ying, who was taken away from a downtown shopping street carrying an electric candle and a yellow paper flower.

The arrests Sunday came on the politically sensitive anniversary of the killing of civilians by the People's Liberation Army, which was once marked annually by candlelight vigils over three decades by thousands of people crowded across several soccer pitches in the city's Victoria Park.

That commemoration has been banned in Hong Kong amid a citywide crackdown on public dissent and protest under the 2020 national security law.

"At about 7.00 p.m., League of Social Democrats Chairperson Chan Po-Ying stood on Great George Street in Causeway Bay, holding a yellow paper flower and electronic tealight," the League of Social Democrats said Sunday on its Facebook page.

On the eve of the 34th anniversary of China's Tiananmen Square crackdown, Tiananmen activists Kwan Chun-pong and Lau Ka-yee, center with red tape over their mouths indicating they would fast for a day at the entrance of Hong Kong's Victoria Park to mark commemoration on June 3, 2023. The pair were taken away shortly by the police. Credit: Kanis Leung/AP

"Less than 10 seconds later, she was dragged by police into a tent for questioning, before being put into a police vehicle, where she kept hold of the paper flowers," the statement said, adding the hashtag #NeverForgetJune4th, in a reference to the anniversary.

The 67-year-old Wong, whose ubiquitous waving of a British flag was a common sight during the 2019 protest movement, was taken away from the same district after being surrounded by police officers when she held flowers on the street and made the "five demands, not one less," gestures from the 2019 protests, according to multiple media reports.

Journalists, artists targeted

Police also took away former Hong Kong Journalists Association chairwoman Mak Yin-ting, the union said in a statement on its website.

"Mak Yin-ting, the former chairperson of the association and a special correspondent of Radio France Internationale, was stopped by the police while reporting in Causeway Bay at 6:00 pm on Sunday (June 4th)," the statement said.

"[Police] told Mak to go into their tent for a routine search, promising to release her afterwards ... but she was [instead] taken to a police minibus," it said. "Police told her she would be charged with obstructing officers in the course of their duty if she didn't do as they told her."

She was sent to Wanchai Police Station, where she was held until 11:00 pm before being released, it said. She wasn’t informed that she was being charged with a crime.

In this combination images, at left thousands of people attend the annual candlelight vigil in Hong Kong's Victoria Park, June 4, 2019 to mark the anniversary of the military crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy student movement in Beijing, and right shows the same venue taken over by a carnival organized by pro-Beijing groups to mark the city's 1997 handover to China on the 34th anniversary of the crackdown, June 4, 2023. Credit: AP

"This association urges the police to respect journalists doing their job, and not to detain them unreasonably, which seriously hinders their reporting work, and calls on the police for an explanation," the June 5 statement said.

On Saturday, police had earlier arrested Hong Kong artist Sanmu Chan in Causeway Bay after he shouted on a busy street: "Hong Kong people, don't be afraid, don't forget that tomorrow is June 4!"

Fellow artist Kacey Wong, who attended a vigil marking the anniversary in the democratic island of Taiwan on Sunday, said Chan was "very brave."

"He shouted out to Hong Kongers not to be afraid, and not to forget that the next day was June 4," Wong told Radio Free Asia in Taipei. "I think he was demonstrating to us that the secret of freedom is courage."

34-hour hunger strike

Meanwhile, jailed barrister and rights activist Chow Hang-tung refused food while in prison to mark the anniversary of the crackdown, which is a banned topic in mainland China and in Hong Kong since the national security law took effect in 2020, according to a page dedicated to supporting her on Facebook.

"34-Hour Hunger Strike in Prison," the group said in an annotated photograph. "Wherever there is candlelight, there is a Victoria Park."

Chow is currently serving a 15-month sentence for “inciting” people to hold a vigil for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. 

She also stands accused of “incitement to subvert state power,” with the prosecution claiming that she and the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China used the now-banned vigils to incite the overthrow of the Chinese government.

Police said on Saturday they had arrested four people for "sedition or disorderly conduct" in Causeway Bay.

"The police are highly concerned about some people attempting to incite and encourage others to commit illegal acts that endanger national security, public order and public safety," they said in a statement dated June 3, warning that they would "strictly enforce the law."

Candles in consulates

According to Hong Kong media reports, at least eight people were arrested over the weekend, including former National Taiwan University student Lau Ka-yee, who had been wearing a T-shirt depicting a candle and the Chinese word for "truth" while declaring her intention to go on hunger strike.

The head of the National Taiwan University's student union, Sun Yu-chien, said Lau had been "arbitrarily" arrested for sedition for peacefully expressing her opinion.

Candles are lit inside the windows of the US Consulate on the 34th anniversary of China's Tiananmen Square crackdown in Hong Kong, June 4 2023. The U.S. Consulate General posted a photo of the candles in every window of the building, with the comment: “In memory.” Credit: Louise Delmotte/AP

Graduate student association head Hsu Kuan-tze called on the university to stand up for Lau and "safeguard freedom."

The university said the 1989 Tiananmen massacre was "a major historical event of concern to the whole world and people of all generations," and that it was in contact with "relevant departments" in a bid to offer Lau some kind of support and assistance.

Candles also appeared in the windows of the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and the Office of the European Union on June 4, with accompanying statements on the diplomatic missions' Facebook pages linking them to the anniversary.

The U.S. Consulate General posted a photo of the candles in every window of the building, with the comment: “In memory.”

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.


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