Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Square Vigil crackdown is latest show of Chinese might
Faced with a new national security law and arrests of political activists, Hong Kong people took to the streets again on June 4 to commemorate the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, China.
Victoria Park in northern Hong Kong typically attracts thousands of people waving candles to commemorate the still unknown number of people who died in the Chinese government’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. But this year, Hong Kong people who dared to appear in person were greeted with signs from the police warning of their possible prosecution, and Victoria Park was barricaded.
Officially, the 2021 Tiananmen Square remembrance has been canceled by the local government due to the coronavirus pandemic, as was the case last year. But activists told the BBC they saw this year’s intervention as a step to silence dissent on the island, one of the few places in China where the 1989 Tiananmen Square activists were allowed to to be commemorated.
Last year, when police closed Victoria Park in commemoration of Tiananmen Square, protesters toppled barricades and continued their candlelight vigil. It was the first time the Hong Kong government attempted to stop the protest in 30 years. But since then, the Chinese government has passed a new security law, which makes it easier to punish protesters and gives the mainland more control over Hong Kong.
New law Hong Kong officials were unaware of
On the morning of June 4, Hong Kong Alliance pro-democracy group vice chairman Chow Hang Tung was arrested for posting remembrance information online. Among other messages promoting the memory of Tiananmen Square, Chow called on people to “turn on lights everywhere, cell phone lights, candles, electronic candles…” on his Facebook page the day before his arrest. Chow, who is also a lawyer, predicted that she would be arrested in an interview before June 4. She was arrested for encouraging an unauthorized gathering and was released on Saturday.
When the Chinese government passed the National Security Law for Hong Kong in June 2020, the full text of the legislation was withheld – even from Managing Director Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s top public servant. The 66 articles of the law criminalize acts which fall into four categories: secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion. Critics of the bill, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, called the text a threat to freedom of expression and too broad.
As Vox’s Jen Kirby wrote in 2020 after the law was passed:
Under each of these activities are specific offenses. For example, damaging government buildings might qualify as “subversion,” a serious offense that can lead to life imprisonment. On July 1, 2019, Hong Kong people stormed and defaced the Legislative Council of Hong Kong to protest the extradition bill, making the provision look like a response to previous protest tactics.
Another example: Under the “collusion with foreign forces” provision, the law states that Hong Kong people can be arrested and prosecuted if they lobby or work with foreign entities against the Chinese government, including “enacting laws and policies that cause serious obstruction or serious consequences in Hong Kong. Kong or China, ”according to the Hong Kong Free Press.
This could involve human rights groups or even individuals who have called for sanctions or increased pressure on China to stop its intervention in Hong Kong. The Chinese government has blamed foreigners, especially those in the West, for stirring up opposition to its regime in Hong Kong, and this appears to be a way to silence its critics.
Of course, these extended definitions are kind of the point.
Activists in Hong Kong have called on foreign governments to intervene in disputes with China, especially during recent protests against the extradition bill, where it was not uncommon to see American and British flags among the protesters. This direct lobbying by activists like Joshua Wong, a recently jailed former general secretary of the pro-democracy Demosisto party, could now be considered illegal collusion.
The law also extends the presence of Chinese authorities in Hong Kong. Beijing now has its own security office on the island, the mainland capital will have the power to interpret the law, and those suspected of breaking the law may be wiretapped or monitored by these security forces (including non-permanent residents).
“In effect, they are forcing the PRC’s criminal system onto the Hong Kong common law system, leaving them free to decide who should fall into which system,” said Johannes Chan, a lawyer at the University of Hong Kong. the BBC.
More than 100 organizers were arrested last year
Even before June 4, activists in Hong Kong were suffering the effects of the National Security Law. Chow has become the face of the Hong Kong Alliance, in part because so many of his fellow organizers have been arrested. More than 100 arrests have been made under the National Security Act since last June. Naturally, an increase in the number of people arrested for protest, political dissent or other anti-government efforts could be seen as a deterrent to those who would like to demonstrate.
Of those arrested in March this year, 56 were charged. This includes those arrested in a 1,000 officer raid in January that apprehended more than 50 pro-democracy activists for their involvement in an unofficial primary election, which government officials said was an attempt to “overthrow the government. government ”. Forty-seven people were eventually charged with “conspiracy to commit subversion”.
Under National Security Law, lawyer and former Hong Kong University professor Benny Tai, along with former lawmakers James To, Helena Wong, Lam Chuek-ting and Claudia Mo, were all arrested in January.
They join pro-democracy activist Wong, who had previously been sentenced to 13 months in prison, along with dozens of other pro-democracy protesters and organizers on Beijing’s victims list.
The National Security Act also allows the government to retroactively bill people. Media mogul Jimmy Lai was arrested and convicted in April under the new security law for his participation in pro-democracy protests in 2019. Lai, 72, was one of the few indicted and convicted for his role in the protests who was not also an elected official. legislator.
Remember Tiananmen Square
Unlike mainland China, where censorship and control of free speech are strictly maintained, Hong Kong’s freedom of speech, press and publication has been enshrined in its constitution and bill of rights when the policy “One country, two systems” was established. Hong Kong’s multi-party political system also inherently increases opportunities for political expression compared to the mainland’s one-party rule.
Hong Kong’s capacity and tolerance for dissent and free speech were also cited as reasons NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden chose the territory to share his wealth of documents with journalists in 2013. “[The people of Hong Kong] have a fiery commitment to freedom of expression and the right to political dissent ”, Snowden told reporters.
However, the erosion of semi-autonomous governance in Hong Kong has raised questions about the future of free speech there and how people will keep the memory of the movement alive in Tiananmen Square.
In mainland China, Tiananmen Square and other words and phrases related to the pro-democracy movement, as well as Wikipedia articles and pages associated with the events of 1989, have been censored.
This year, Microsoft came under fire when its Bing search engine failed to returns the results of the popular image search “Tank Man,” which is the nickname for Stuart Franklin’s iconic photo of a protester blocking the path of three tanks in the middle of Tiananmen Square. Tank Man has long been a symbol of resilience for the pro-democracy movement. In the US, UK and Singapore, Bing’s image has disappeared; Microsoft blamed “human error”.
Part of the significance of the Tiananmen Square commemoration in Victoria Park every year is its challenge to censorship and control of the mainland. “Hong Kong people are always on our side and want to fight for democracy,” Chow told the BBC. “Hong Kong allows political expression,” she added. “Let us [the Chinese government] use their “red lines” to change our basic principle? “
In neighboring Taiwan, the anniversary of Tiananmen Square is also used as an opportunity to challenge China. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen posted on Facebook, “We also won’t forget the young people who sacrificed themselves in Tiananmen Square that day 32 years ago, and that year Hong’s friends. Kong who still cry on June 4th by candlelight. . “In previous years, people have also commemorated the anniversary with protests in Taiwan in solidarity with the people of Hong Kong.
Critics of China’s Hong Kong National Security Law and last year’s arrests fear mainland China’s censorship standards could transform culture and freedoms on the island. However, activists have been relentless and fearless in the face of the new authorities, and pro-democracy organizers, in Hong Kong and in exile, continue to post online and share their dissenting views.
“Many ask if the vigil will go away. But I think we’ve been persisting for over 30 years, ”Chow said. “It’s more or less in the DNA of Hong Kong people now.”