For the first time in 30 years, Hong Kong authorities are banning the annual June Fourth candlelight vigil in Victoria Park, which has been peacefully held for decades, drawing tens of thousands, and as many as 150,000 to 200,0000 in some years, to commemorate those who died in the June Fourth military crackdown on the 1989 Democracy Movement in China.
“As the only place in China where demands for accountability and public commemorations for the deaths of unarmed civilians could be expressed, Hong Kong has been a beacon of hope and resistance to the enforced amnesia and censorship of the authoritarian Party-state,“ said Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China. “The ban comes amid an alarming acceleration of attacks on the autonomy of Hong Kong and the undermining of the rights and freedoms of the Hong Kong people guaranteed under Hong Kong and international law.”
On June 1, the Hong Kong police refused permission for the Victoria Park event, calling the candlelight vigil “a major threat to the life and health of the general public.” However, the authorities have allowed the reopening of bars, gyms, beauty parlors and other venues on May 8, beaches on May 23, and schools on May 27. On May 18, the authorities extended COVID-19 related public gathering restrictions which had been in place since late March to June 4. (On June 2, the restrictions were extended again, through June 18.)
Every year since 1990, the first anniversary of June Fourth, the people of Hong Kong as well as mainland visitors—young and old, candles in hand, always in blistering heat and sometimes enduring heavy downpour—have gathered in Victoria Park to honor those who died and express solidarity with Chinese citizens demanding long-overdue justice and accountability. And every year, the organizers played video messages from the Tiananmen Mothers, the group of families of June Fourth victims who, through the decades, kept up their fight for justice for the deaths of their loved ones.
The mainland authorities’ encroachment on Hong Kong’s freedom and autonomy, gradual in recent years, has accelerated in a succession of alarming legal and policy developments in April and May. In mid-April, the Central government’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong declared, with the Hong Kong SAR government agreeing, that it is not subject to the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution. On April 18, the Hong Kong authorities arrested 15 prodemocracy figures who are now facing charges of participating in and/or organizing unauthorized protests and inciting unlawful assembly. And in late May, the National People’s Congress authorized the Standing Committee to draft and pass a national security law for Hong Kong, bypassing Hong Kong’s own legislative process, that will allow mainland state security agents to operate in Hong Kong.
Despite the ban and the growing political crisis, the organizer of the annual vigil, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, has called for people to light candles or their cellphones across Hong Kong, wherever they are, in their homes or outside, at 8 p.m. on June 4, to let remembrance “blossom everywhere.”
Though the members of the Tiananmen Mothers have grown old waiting, and 60 of them have died without seeing justice for their loved ones, younger members have joined them. As a group, they have never stopped speaking out. As they have so powerfully declared in their statement this year, “Lies Written in Ink Cannot Conceal the Facts Written in Blood”: “The dignity of every single life may not be stripped away and trampled on arbitrarily by power. . . . Time can erase our lives, but our group’s resolve in the pursuit of fairness and justice will not alter.”
HRIC urges the international community to support the Tiananmen Mothers and say clearly to the Beijing and Hong Kong authorities: We remember; you will not succeed in your efforts to wipe out the truth about June Fourth from people’s memory.
Wherever you are on June 4, resist enforced amnesia and light a candle at 8 p.m.