Pro-democracy protesters gathered outside the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre on Wednesday night, where demonstrators arrested in connection with Hong Kong’s almost year-long anti-extradition law movement are being detained.

Crowds shout and wave at the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The crowd lit candles and sang songs to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, where the military’s intervention against a student-led movement in Beijing resulted in hundreds, perhaps thousands of deaths.

A miniature Goddess of Democracy, a symbolic statute from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The annual vigil in Hong Kong – organised by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China – has been banned by police for the first time in 31 years. Authorities cited the government’s extended prohibition on public gatherings of more than eight people amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Organisers light up candles. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

High-profile pro-democracy activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung were among the participants gathered on the eve of the 31st anniversary. Responding to calls for citywide commemorations on Thursday night, Leung said he hoped to see events “blossom everywhere” in different districts. He added he would visit Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, where previous vigils were held, in defiance of the police ban.

Pro-democracy activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“Democracy and freedom is our common aspiration. After experiencing the anti-extradition bill movement, Hongkongers have understood more about the cruelty of the Chinese Communist Party. It is something that everyone should oppose,” the vice-chair of League of Social Democrats said.

An elderly woman holds a sign that reads “support comrades, support till the end.” Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

In a show of solidarity with the protesters in custody, people brought signs that read “support comrades, support till the end.” Protest slogans such as “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times” and “Five demands, not one less” were chanted by the crowd opposite the Correctional Services Department facility.

A woman lights up a virtual candle on her phone. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Like at recent demonstrations, pro-independence slogans and flags were spotted at the scene. People shouted: “Hong Kong independence, the only way out.”

Masked citizens display pro-independence flag. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

They also switched on their phone flashlights and sang the protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong, in the hope that the imprisoned protesters would see and hear them.

Lyrics of pro-democracy songs. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Since last June, when large-scale protests broke out over a now-axed extradition bill, over 8,300 people have been arrested and more than 1,600 have been prosecuted. Most were charged with alleged rioting, while others stand accused of allegedly possessing offensive weapons or participating in an illegal assembly.

A man holds an umbrella painted with lyrics of protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong.” Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

A participant at the event surnamed Chiu brought a placard that read “#BlackLivesMatter, how about Hongkongers’ lives. Fight for freedom, no tyranny!” The hashtag is part of a global social media movement to mourn the death of George Floyd, an African-American who died after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, was seen kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Chiu told HKFP that he was “mind-boggled” and “kind of angry” when some people – who have not spoken up about what he saw as police brutality in Hong Kong – made posts about Floyd’s case.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The 32-year-old said that, while he recognised the severity of racism and police misconduct as a structural issue in the US, he did not understand why the alleged excessive force used against a black American would trigger international outrage, when the city has seen similar actions by local police.

Correctional Services Department staff standing outside the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“I think the fight for universal freedom and human values should not get separated by race,” Chiu said.

“Hong Kong has experienced tyranny under the Hong Kong regime, under the Chinese Communist Party regime for over a year. Many people in Hong Kong do not actively voice for this, but you voice for something that is so far away. When it is so close to you, why can’t you do your share here?,” he asked.

Police officers on standby near the crowds. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Organisers reminded participants to stay in groups of five to avoid breaching the gathering ban, though the rules allow for groups of up to eight. Police officers once entered the crowd to break people up, but left shortly after and remained on standby in the area.

The event ended at around 8.30 pm as crowds dispersed.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.