Amid a new national security law and the arrests of political activists, Hong Kong people still took to the streets on June 4th to commemorate the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, China.
Victoria Park in northern Hong Kong usually attracts thousands of people waving candles to commemorate the still unknown number of people who personally showed up in Tiananmen Square in 1989 during the Chinese government's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters , faced police leads of possible prosecution, and Victoria Park was barricaded.
Officially, the commemoration of Tiananmen Square in 2021, like last year, was canceled by the local government due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, activists told the BBC that they see this year's intervention as a step to silence dissenting opinions on the island, one of the few places in China where the 1989 Tiananmen Square activists were allowed to attend will remember.
When police closed Victoria Park for the Tiananmen Square commemoration last year, protesters tore down the barricades and continued their candlelight vigil. It was the first attempt by the Hong Kong government to stop the demonstration in 30 years. But since then, the Chinese government has passed a new security law that eases the punishment of protesters and gives the mainland more control over Hong Kong.
A new law that Hong Kong officials were not privy to
On the morning of June 4th, vice chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance pro-democracy group, Chow Hang Tung, was arrested for posting about the memorial on the Internet. In addition to other posts that promote the memory of Tiananmen Square, Chow asked on her Facebook page the day before her arrest to “turn on lights, mobile phone lights, candles, electronic candles …” everywhere. Chow, who is also a lawyer, predicted she would be arrested in an interview before June 4. She was arrested for promoting an unauthorized gathering and was released on Saturday.
Political activist Chow Hang Tung speaks to the media after his arrest in Hong Kong on June 5.
Peter Parks / AFP / Getty Images
When the Chinese government passed the Hong Kong National Security Law in June 2020, the full text of the law was kept secret – even from Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the top Hong Kong official. The 66 articles of the law criminalize acts that fall into four categories: Secession, Subversion, Terrorism, and Collusion. Critics of the bill, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have called the text a threat to freedom of expression and too broad.
As Vox's Jen Kirby wrote in 2020 after the bill was passed:
Under each of these activities there are some specific offenses. For example, damaging government buildings could be considered “subversion,” a serious crime that can lead to life imprisonment. On July 1, 2019, Hong Kongers stormed and defaced the Hong Kong Legislative Council to protest the extradition law, making the provision look very much a reaction to previous protest tactics.
Another example: Under the “Cooperation with Foreign Forces” provision, Hong Kong residents can be arrested and prosecuted for lobbying or cooperating with foreign entities against the Chinese government, including “enacting laws and guidelines that seriously impede Hong Kong or cause serious consequences to have". Kong or China, ”according to the Hong Kong Free Press.
This could affect 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 outsiders, particularly in the West, for stoking opposition to its rule in Hong Kong, and this seems like a way to silence its critics.
Of course, these broad definitions are the point.
Activists in Hong Kong have urged foreign governments to intervene in disputes with China, including during recent extradition law protests, where it was not uncommon to see American and British flags among protesters. This direct lobbying by activists such as Joshua Wong, a recently jailed former general secretary of the pro-democracy Demosisto party, could now be viewed as illegal collusion.
The law also expands the Chinese authorities' presence in Hong Kong. Beijing now has its own security bureau on the island, the mainland capital will have the authority to interpret the law and anyone suspected of violating the law can be bugged or monitored by these security forces (including non-permanent residents) become.
"In fact, they are forcing the People's Republic of China's penal system on the Hong Kong common law system and leaving it to them to decide at their own discretion who should fall into which system," Johannes Chan, a law scholar at the University of Hong Kong, told the BBC.
More than 100 organizers were arrested last year
Even before June 4th, activists in Hong Kong were suffering from the effects of the national security law. Chow became the face of the Hong Kong Alliance, in part because so many of its co-organizers were arrested. Since June last year, more than 100 arrests have been made under national security law. Of course, an increase in the number of people arrested for protests, political disagreements or other anti-government activities could be seen as a deterrent to others who may wish to demonstrate.
Of those arrested, 56 had been charged by March this year. This includes those arrested in a January raid involving 1,000 officers that arrested more than 50 democracy activists for participating in an unofficial primary that government officials said was an attempt to "end the government." fall". 47 people were eventually charged with "conspiracy to commit subversion".
In January, lawyer and former Hong Kong university professor Benny Tai and former lawmakers James To, Helena Wong, Lam Chuek-ting and Claudia Mo were arrested under the national security law.
They join pro-democracy activist Wong, who was previously sentenced to 13 months in prison, along with dozens of other pro-democracy protesters and organizers on the list of victims of the Beijing Law.
The national security law also allows the government to incriminate individuals retrospectively. Media mogul Jimmy Lai was arrested and convicted in April under the new security law for participating in pro-democracy protests in 2019. 72-year-old Lai was one of the few indicted and convicted of his role in the protests and not simultaneously elected lawmakers.
Remembering Tiananmen Square
Unlike mainland China, where censorship and control of freedom of expression are strictly upheld, Hong Kong's freedom of speech, press and publication was enshrined in its current constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights when the “one country, two systems” policy was introduced. Hong Kong's multi-party political system also naturally contributes to opportunities for political expression compared to one-party rule on the mainland.
Hong Kong's ability and tolerance for dissent and freedom of expression were also cited as reasons why NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden chose the area in 2013 to share his wealth of documents with journalists and the right to political disagreement, ”Snowden told journalists.
However, the erosion of Hong Kong's semi-autonomous government has raised questions about the future of free speech there and how people will keep memories of the Tiananmen Movement alive.
In mainland China, Tiananmen Square and other words and phrases related to the pro-democracy movement, as well as articles and Wikipedia pages related to the events of 1989, have been censored.
The famous picture of a lone protester standing in front of tanks on June 5, 1989 on Tiananmen Square.
CNN / Getty Images
That year, Microsoft came under fire when its Bing search engine stopped working Return results for the popular image search, Tank Man, nicknamed the iconic photo by Stuart Franklin of a protester blocking the path of three tanks in the middle of Tiananmen Square. Tank Man has been around for a long time a symbol of resilience for the pro-democracy movement. In the US, UK, and Singapore, the image of Bing disappeared; Microsoft blames “human error”.
Part of the importance of Tiananmen Square commemoration in Victoria Park each year is opposition to mainland censorship and control. "Hong Kong people are still on our side and want to fight for democracy," Chow told the BBC. "Hong Kong allows political expression," she added. "Are we going to let them (the Chinese government) use their 'red lines' to change our rationale?"
In neighboring Taiwan, too, the anniversary of Tiananmen Square is being used as an opportunity to defy China. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen wrote on Facebook: “We will not forget the young people who sacrificed themselves on Tiananmen Square that day 32 years ago, and year after year friends in Hong Kong who are always 4th Mourn June by candlelight. ”In recent years, people in Taiwan have also celebrated the anniversary with demonstrations in solidarity with the people of Hong Kong.
Critics of the Chinese security law in Hong Kong and the arrests last year fear that censorship norms from mainland China will change the island's culture and freedoms. However, activists have shown themselves to be relentless and fearless to the new authorities, and pro-democracy organizers in Hong Kong and in exile continue to post online and share their dissenting views.
“Many ask whether the vigil will go away. But I think we've been around for more than 30 years, ”said Chow. "It's more or less in the DNA of the Hong Kong people now."