Thousands gathered in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to attend an annual candlelight vigil to mark 31 years since the Tiananmen Massacre on Thursday in defiance of a police ban.
Attendees clambered over barriers to take part, despite police refusing to give permission to organisers citing coronavirus-related public health concerns.
The solemn occasion usually attracts tens of thousands of participants and is the only place on Chinese soil where such an event can be held.
It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died as the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on the student-led movement in Beijing on June 4, 1989.
Organisers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, said on Tuesday that they would enter the park in groups of eight as per the government’s public gatherings restriction.
The Alliance encouraged participants to tune into its live stream and light candles across the city to remember the dead.
Activists also encouraged people around the world to use the hashtag “#6431truth” on social media as a tribute.
Around an hour before the 8 pm start time, crowds pushed over the metal barriers lining the perimeter of the football pitches.
Police kept a low profile, Chinese state media reported that thousands of officers were deployed and put on standby.
Police officers filmed attendees as they arrived in the park.
As the event kicked off, crowds lit candles or turned on their phone lights.
At 8:09 pm, they observed a minute of silence to commemorate victims of the massacre.
Organisers then played a video of testimonies from the Tiananmen Mothers – an activist group comprised of mothers and family of the victims.
Pockets of attendees sang pro-democracy songs including Flowers of Freedom, whilst others chanted slogans calling for accountability and vindication of the massacre’s victims.
Some of the attendees marched and waved flags that read “Hong Kong independence,” chanting “One Hong Kong, one nation.”
A man who declined to give his name told HKFP he has taken part in the annual vigil for years: “I am here to light the candle and shine through the darkness,” he said. “Even if the national security law passes, I will still come here next year.”
Ahead of the event, police posted a statement on Facebook advising the public to stay at home and reduce social contact due to the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.
“The public are advised to stay at home and avoid travelling to crowded places or participating in prohibited gatherings. Members of the community should join hands to combat the pandemic,” it read, adding that the restriction on group gatherings remained in effect.
“[T]he risk of health impact caused by Covid-19 on the local population is high and imminent. This may cause severe and widespread transmissions and a sustained community outbreak… Following [a] risk assessment, the police considered that a public meeting is a high-risk activity and therefore issued ‘letters of objection’ to the two organisers.”
Jacky, an accountant who declined to give her surname, told HKFP she felt compelled to attend this year’s vigil despite the police order.
“I think most Hong Kong people have to resist. We have to fight for something that Hong Kong people deserve to have,” she said. “In the past year, Hong Kong sacrificed a lot.”
Another attendee who gave her name as Vy told HKFP: “This could possibly be one of the last times that we can gather here legally.”
The ceremony ended with the chanting of slogans including: “Release the dissidents; rectify the verdict on the 1989 movement,” “demand accountability for the massacre,” “end one-party dictatorship,” and “build a democratic China.”
Democrats are concerned that the looming national security law will lead to a ban on the annual vigil next year, since participants call for an end to one-party rule.
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