Hundreds and possibly thousands of people were killed when tanks and troops moved in on the night of June 3-4, 1989, to break up weeks of student-led protests that had spread to other cities and were seen as a threat to Communist Party rule.
China did not intervene directly in last year’s protests but backed the tough response of the Hong Kong police and government. It then announced last month at the annual meeting of its ceremonial legislature that it would impose national security laws on Hong Kong, circumventing the city’s legislature and shocking many of its 7.5 million residents.
Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, where thousands of students had gathered in 1989, was quiet and largely empty on Thursday.
As has become customary, many dissidents were placed under house arrest and their communications with the outside world cut off, according to rights groups.
Despite the ban on the candlelight vigil, Hong Kong was bracing for possible “pop-up” protests of the type that raged around the city last year and often led to violent confrontations between police and demonstrators.
Thousands have been arrested in the demonstrations, which were sparked by proposed legislation that could have allowed suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic and Democratic Movements of China, that organises the annual vigil, called on people to light candles at 8pm and planned to livestream the commemorations on its website.
Alliance Chairman Lee Cheuk-yan and several other members of the Hong Kong Alliance gathered at Victoria Park at 6.30pm, dressed in black shirts with the Chinese characters for “truth” emblazoned on the front. They lit candles and urged the public to do the same later on to mourn victims of the massacre and show their support for the democratic cause in China.
Lee then led the group of about 15 members in a candlelit procession around the park, shouting slogans including, “Stand with Hong Kong”.
“We have been doing this for 30 years, we have the right to do this, this is a peaceful procession,” he said, stating that it would be “absurd” if this behavior is criminalised.
The group later removed one of the barricades surrounding the park, and entered it to continue their procession.
On Thursday, the Hong Kong legislature passed a law making it a crime to disrespect China’s national anthem. The pro-democracy opposition, which sees the law as an infringement of freedom of expression, boycotted the vote.
“The Hong Kong government tried to please or show loyalty to Beijing and ban our gathering even before the national security law comes in. But we are determined,” Lee said at a kiosk set up by the group to distribute flyers in the busy Causeway Bay shopping district near the park.
“The ban comes amid an alarming acceleration of attacks on the autonomy of Hong Kong and the undermining of the rights and freedoms of the Hong Kong people guaranteed under Hong Kong and international law,” Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, said in a statement.
Other vigils, virtual and otherwise, were planned elsewhere, including in Taiwan, the self-ruled island democracy whose government called again this year for Beijing to own up to the facts of the crackdown.