Hong Kong’s commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre was largely stifled as authorities tried to clamp down on student protesters in the city that typically hosts the largest annual vigil on Chinese soil.
The anniversary is one of the most sensitive events for Chinese authorities, discussing censored demonstrations on the mainland and the frequent detention or interrogation of survivors or families of victims.
Every June 4, Hong Kong hosts the world’s largest annual commemoration until it is banned in 2020, a year after pro-democracy protests swept Chinese territory. Authorities then cracked down on the opposition, and Beijing expanded its control over the quasi-autonomous city.
Officials said the ban two years ago was an attempt to contain the coronavirus pandemic, but critics accused the government of using the health crisis as an excuse to suppress dissent.
Leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance for the Patriotic and Democratic Movement of China, which traditionally organize vigils, have been arrested, and many have been jailed. Zhou Hengtong, one of the jailed organizers, often used her court appearances to evoke memories of the massacre.
Authorities closed Victoria Park this year, where thousands of residents typically light candles to mark the event from Friday night into the early hours of Sunday.
Some residents have found subtle ways to commemorate the Holocaust.
The Catholic Church has been commemorating the event at special masses for more than three decades, but it was shocked last month by the arrest of its former top cleric, Cardinal Zen. He is accused of failing to register a fund meant to help pay for the legal and medical expenses of protesters in 2019. Cardinal Chen has denied the allegations.
At Saturday’s morning meeting in Kowloon, about 30 people prayed for those who “died for justice” despite the Catholic diocese canceling services to commemorate the Holocaust.
“The public memorial may be gone this year, but the memory in my heart, you can’t let it go,” said one congregation.
Despite the large police presence, a few tried to commemorate the massacre in the cordoned off Victoria Park. Some held up electronic candles and cellphone lights, saying they wanted to “keep the memory alive.”
Hong Kong students have also been working hard to commemorate the protests. The university has been the focus of Beijing’s attempts to undermine support for the 2019 pro-democracy protests, and the long-standing Tiananmen Square massacre memorial on campus has been removed.
Danish artist Jens Galschiøt’s eight-meter sculpture “Column of Shame”, which had been on display at the University of Hong Kong since 1997, was demolished last December.
The “Goddess of Democracy” statue at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, a replica of a monument erected by student protesters in Tiananmen Square, was removed that month.
Due to an “increased risk” this week, university students made tiny replicas of the lost artwork and hid them around campus for others to find before the event, organizers said.
Macau, one of only a few regions in China to hold commemorations before it was banned in 2020, will no longer hold public commemorations after authorities said last year’s event could amount to “subversion.”
This weekend, the Tiananmen Square vigil is planned overseas, including in London and Taiwan.