The Tiananmen massacre was 33 years ago. For years, Hong Kong was one of the only places where the fatalities could be commemorated. This was prevented on Saturday by a large presence of the police.

It is not yet clear how many people died in the Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 1989. According to Amnesty International, there could be several hundred to several thousand victims. At that time, the Chinese government had put down student protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. After weeks of peaceful protests demanding political change and measures against state corruption, soldiers and tanks used violence against the demonstrators.

The communist leadership in Beijing is making every effort to erase the massacre from collective memory. There is no information in history books, and references to it are being deleted from the Chinese Internet and online platforms. Discussion of what happened is practically forbidden.

Police to stop commemoration in Hong Kong

With a large contingent, the police in Hong Kong stopped any public commemoration of the Tiananmen massacre on Saturday. Numerous people were stopped and searched, and at least two people were arrested because they wanted to commemorate the bloodbath in Beijing 33 years ago, despite the ban on public vigils.

For decades, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was – apart from Macao – the only place in China where commemoration of the dead of Tiananmen was still tolerated. Until two years ago, tens of thousands of people traditionally commemorated the dead of the massacre with a vigil in Victoria Park. Hong Kong authorities warned on Friday that anyone attending an “unauthorized gathering” could face up to five years in prison. Large parts of Victoria Park have been closed.

Officials search passers-by

There was a massive police presence around the park on Saturday, many people were stopped and searched by officers. A man in a black T-shirt and a white chrysanthemum – both signs of mourning – later told reporters that police had “warned him not to do anything to encourage people to gather.”

AFP journalists saw a man in a black T-shirt being driven away in a police vehicle. On Saturday night, a performance artist was arrested who carved a candle out of a potato and held a lighter to it. Police later said they had arrested a 31-year-old woman for “disorderly conduct”. A woman told AFP that she lit a candle at home and placed it on her window sill with a replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue – originally located in Tiananmen Square in 1989. “For me and many Hong Kongers of my generation, June 4th was the moment of political awakening,” said the 49-year-old PR woman, who has volunteered at vigils in the past.

US criticizes China

In July 2020, China introduced a so-called National Security Law in response to months of mass protests in Hong Kong against Beijing’s growing influence. It allows authorities in the SAR to crack down on any activity they deem to threaten China’s national security. The Hong Kong Alliance’s Tiananmen commemoration organizers have been classified as “foreign agents”.

The US has criticized China for banning memorial services in Hong Kong. “Today, the struggle for democracy and freedom continues to reverberate in Hong Kong, where the annual Tiananmen Massacre commemoration vigil has been banned by the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong authorities to erase memories of the day,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken . “We will not forget June 4th – for the Chinese people and for all who continue to stand up against injustice and for freedom,” affirmed Blinken.