Tiananmen: Arrests reported in Hong Kong on anniversary of massacre

Several people have been arrested in Hong Kong, reports say, as authorities seek to restrict public commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Saturday is the 33rd anniversary of the highly sensitive incident in which China’s rulers crushed peaceful protests with tanks and troops.

Until recently, Hong Kong was one of the few Chinese territories which commemorated the event.

But Beijing has effectively banned the city’s annual public vigil.

At least six people were seen being taken away by police on Saturday, mostly in the evening, the AFP news agency reports.

Some images shared on social media appeared to show people being detained and led away by police officers in the city. Others were seen being searched.

Authorities have not confirmed any number of arrests. There was a heavy police presence around the city in preparation for public gatherings on Saturday.

Large parts of Victoria Park, which in the past was the site of candlelit vigils marking the anniversary of the massacre, have been closed off.

Hundreds of police, some with sniffer dogs, were also seen patrolling the area around the park in the evening.

Dozens of people – in an apparent attempt to replicate the annual candlelit vigil – turned on their mobile phone torches in an area near to the park on Saturday. They were then warned by police to turn them off, Reuters news agency reports.

Officials earlier warned that any unauthorised assembly could see demonstrators facing prison sentences of up to five years.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“For 33 years it has always been peaceful, but today it’s like [the police] are facing a big enemy,” one activist, Chan Po-ying, told AFP. “The hearts of people will live on.”

The Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing became the focus for national demonstrations calling for greater political freedoms in 1989. Thousands of people – mainly students – camped for weeks in the square before the military moved in on 4 June and opened fire.

One unidentified protester became an international symbol of protest for blocking an advancing column of tanks in video footage which was seen around the world.

The Chinese government says 200 civilians and several dozen security personnel died. Other estimates have ranged from hundreds to as many as 10,000.

The actions of the authorities have been seen by activists as part of China’s broader agenda to snuff out political dissent in Hong Kong.

China’s erasure of public displays of June Fourth – as the Tiananmen anniversary is popularly known in Chinese – has become near-total in Hong Kong since Beijing enacted a national security law on the island in 2020.

Self-ruled Taiwan is one of the only parts of the Chinese-speaking world where it can be commemorated openly, and on Saturday hundreds of people gathered in the capital Taipei.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen criticised the “collective memory of 4 June being systematically erased in Hong Kong”.

“But we believe that such brute force cannot erase people’s memories,” she wrote on social media.

“It’s a symbol of how democracy is precious and fragile at the same time, and how people who care about democracy need to stand up,” Jeremy Chiang, who attended the event in Taipei, told Reuters.

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