Hong Kong: Thousands defy vigil ban and light candles to mark Tiananmen anniversary

Last year protesters in Hong Kong burned universities, threw petrol bombs at police and were arrested in their thousands.

Tonight, though, in a quiet, socially-distanced, non-violent vigil, the city was perhaps at its most defiant.

Police had banned the annual candlelit commemoration of the Tiananmen crackdown, citing COVID-19 regulations, and fenced off Victoria Park.

The legislative council passed a bill making it illegal to insult the national anthem. And Beijing is pressing ahead with its plans to directly impose a sweeping national security bill on Hong Kong.

Still, they came, in their thousands. They toppled the fences, they lit candles and they remembered a massacre.

They chanted “Hong Kong independence, the only way out” – a statement of secession that will probably be illegal under the new national security law.

Hong Kong and Macau are the only places on Chinese soil where this sort of public commemoration is possible. Some 31 years ago, the last peaceful mass protest in mainland China was brought to a brutal end.

Students and others asked the Chinese Communist Party for more freedoms and were answered with bullets. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, died in and around Tiananmen Square.

So this memory is defiance, and it is about the past but also about the future. Many Hong Kongers fear that the vigil will be permanently and much more effectively banned next year, once the national security law is imposed.

The Hong Kong government has said that city’s special freedoms will be protected under the security legislation. And tonight the police did not come out in force as they have already done this year.

Scuffles broke out elsewhere in Hong Kong, and arrests were made, although they were pretty small scale by the city’s standards.

It seems certain that there will be another long, violent summer ahead. Tonight, though, was a quieter reflection on what they are fighting for.

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