Silence. No vigil in the park. Or candles in public places. Or masses in Catholic churches for the victims. This year, for the first time in 33, there will be no type of visible commemoration on Chinese soil as this Saturday marks the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre of June 4, 1989. Nor in Hong Kong, the last redoubt where until last year Some kind of tribute was paid to those who died when the Chinese army troops dissolved with tanks the protests that for a month had demanded in the central square of Beijing and its surroundings initially measures against corruption, and later democracy.
Until 2019, thousands of people gathered, year after year, in Victoria Park, the largest in central Hong Kong, to remember the anniversary with a vigil. This was allowed by the special status of the city, first as a British colony and, after 1997, when the enclave returned to Chinese sovereignty, thanks to its special regime of freedoms recognized by Beijing in the “One country, two systems” principle.
In 2020 and 2021, the police prohibited the commemorative assembly, citing the covid pandemic. But in 2020, tens of thousands of people – 180,000 according to the organizers – gathered at the park despite official warnings. It was the last gesture of massive defiance of a citizenry that had taken to the streets a year earlier by hundreds of thousands to protest, first, for an extradition bill, and then against the Chinese and autonomous governments. 26 days later, the draconian National Security law imposed by Beijing was approved. This law, highly criticized by foreign governments, activists and human rights organizations that accuse it of putting an end to the Hong Kong freedom system in practice, has already canceled the vigil in 2021 to replace it with an abundant police deployment around the park. Victory. In 2021, despite the ban, people dressed in black lit candles and masses were held in memory of the victims. And that year will be the first in which there is no memory of any kind.
Since then, the law has claimed the disappearance of opposition media outlets, the arrest of journalists, lawmakers and activists and even the arrest, last month, of respected Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, currently out on bail. .
In addition, the organizers of the annual vigil have dismantled their association, Alliance for Hong Kong, and its main leaders have been arrested. The memorial museum, run by the Massacre Memorial Alliance, had been closed three months earlier and was searched in September 2021. In addition, a statue at the University of Hong Kong commemorating the massacre, called the Pillar of Shame, it was dismantled at night by order of the rectorate. The head of the autonomous government, Carrie Lam, has been replaced by her former head of Security, John Lee, who has promised to maintain social stability in the territory above all else.
More than 200 victims
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After the arrest of Cardinal Zen, the Catholic churches have given up celebrating this week the masses that until this year they had offered for the victims of the massacre, whose number has never been known exactly. Estimates put it in the hundreds to thousands. The Tiananmen Mothers, who lost their children, claim to have identified 203 victims, including 61 university students and 14 schoolchildren. The youngest was nine years old.
Police have repeatedly warned the public not to congregate in the park this Saturday or participate in “unauthorized assemblies.” If a person goes to the compound alone, but “shares a common goal of expressing certain calls jointly with others in their vicinity, that is enough to constitute an illegal assembly,” Liauw Ka-Kai, head of the assembly, said at a press conference. of the Hong Kong police. Being found guilty of participating in such meetings can carry up to five years in prison. Inciting attendance at them can lead to up to 12 months in prison.
Asked if wearing black clothes – the color of mourning, and with which both the vigil participants and the protesters of the 2019 protests wore themselves for years -, carrying candles or flowers or even approaching the park could constitute a reason to be arrested, Liauw replied: “Anything that makes us think that the purpose of your appearance is to incite others, will make us search you for evidence.”
On the same Friday, the Parks department announced the closure of most of Victoria Park until Sunday, alleging that the police had detected that the enclosure could be used for “illegal activities” and to prevent “unauthorized gatherings”.
Silence remains in the rest of China
In the rest of China, silence has reigned for 33 years. Information about what happened then is censored. In Beijing, police surveillance increases in the streets around Tiananmen and the Muxidi area, west of the square and where the worst incidents took place that night from June 3 to 4.
The authorities have restricted the movements and communication of members of the Tiananmen Mothers, denounces the human rights organization Human Rights Watch. Well-known activists such as Hu Jia or the historian Zhang Lifan have denounced the blocking of calls from abroad to their mobiles. Among the youngest, the usual thing is that they are unaware of anything related to that episode.
But the memory fights to endure. Exiled Hong Kongers plan various vigils in their hometowns. In a letter to the newspaper ming paoone of the founders of the Alliance, Lee Cheuk-yan, imprisoned like other leaders of the association, has assured that this Saturday he will hold a hunger strike and light a match in memory of the candlelight vigils held in past years in the park Victory.
Other Hong Kongers also planned to light candles in their windows, wear black or spend a few minutes silently remembering what happened in 1989. In some stores it is possible to buy electric candles, or reproductions of the Goddess of Democracy, the statue erected by the students in Tiananmen Square during their protests.
“For 33 years, years we have claimed the three demands – truth, compensation and accountability – in a peaceful and rational manner, asking for a dialogue with the Government through a legal process to resolve the issues related to the massacre of June 4. We appeal to your conscience on behalf of the families of the dead, ”said the Tiananmen Mothers this week in a open letter signed by 120 of its members. Despite the advanced age of most of its members, they promise to continue their fight: “For the sake of justice and decency, we will continue forward.”
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