Hong Kong authorities clamp down on the annual commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown

“Fear not, Hongkongers”, behavior artist San Mu cried out during his arrest on 3 of June 2023. Image from inmediahk.net CC: AT-NC

Ahead of the 34th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, the Chinese term “special days” or “special occasion” (特別日子) has kept popping up on social media platforms in Hong Kong, replacing customary political slogans such as “vindication of June 4”(平反六四), “end single-party rule”(結束一黨專政).

The online self-censorship and shifting of political discourse came after Hong Kong’s security chief Chris Tang’s warning that the police authorities would take action against people who plan to harm national security on “a special occasion in a few days.” Artist Lau Yan Hin created a poster to mark the “special occasion”:

Art by 劉仁顯
· #SpecialDay #June4th #June4thIncident #June4thMassacre #89DemocracyMovement#TiananmenIncident pic.twitter.com/k6iooMmtXQ

— 777文宣傳播稿件大合集 (@hkposter777) June 3, 2023

Hong Kong has banned the traditional candlelight vigil to commemorate Tiananmen crackdown since 2020, citing pandemic control reasons. This year, as all the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have been lifted, the police did not issue a straight ban. Yet, the authorities issued a chilling warning of the legal consequence of “harmful acts”, as spelt out by Chris Tang:

It will be a special occasion in a few days’ time, many people will use this special occasion to commit acts endangering national security, such as promoting Hong Kong independence and intending to commit subversion…However, I want to tell these people that if you commit these acts, we will definitely take decisive action and arrest you, and will prosecute you if there is evidence. You will not get lucky.

Tang did not specify which occasion he referred to or what acts harm national security. After the National Security Law was enacted on 30 June 2020, public expressions challenging authorities have been prosecuted and, in many cases, resulted in guilty jail sentences.  These expressions are slogans like “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Time” and images such as a “black bauhinia flag”.

It is obvious that the special occasion refers to June 4. In fact, on the evening of June 3, police authorities arrested several individuals at Causeway Bay:

The police authorities arrested six individuals at Causeway Bay, and artist San Mu cried out: Fear not, Hongkongers.

Here is a video posted by exiled Hong Kong artist Kacey Wong on one of the arrest scenes:

Causeway Bay is a popular district for busking and street performances in Hong Kong. As the commercial area is near Victoria Park, where the annual candlelight vigil was hosted for over three decades, behavioural artists have had street performances to commemorate the Tiananmen Crackdowns on June 3. They started being threatened with arrests only in the past years. 

Four people among those arrested are allegedly accused of “behaving in a noisy or disorderly manner in a public place” and “acting with seditious intention”; four others were charged with “breach of peace”. 

Under the colonial public order ordinance, the police have the authority to prohibit the display at any public gathering of any flag, banner or other emblem if they believe the display would lead to a breach of peace.

Hong Kong authorities have started monitoring activists since April and planned a special operation to deter Hongkongers from commemorating June 4th in public.

For example, the venue that was traditionally used to host the annual vigil for commemorating the Tiananmen Massacre in Victoria Park, has been reserved by the Chinese state-affiliated Federation of Hong Kong Guangdong Community Organisations for a trade event called “Homeland Market Carnival “from June 3 to 5. Under pressure, local Catholic churches also axed their commemoration mass for a second consecutive year. Even non-public gatherings are flagged as “sensitive”. Three private screenings of a non-political documentary film were forced to cancel their events on June 4, presumably because the organizer is a former pro-democracy District Councillor.

Activists are closely monitored. Several shops and small businesses owned or affiliated with activists were checked upon by various law enforcement agents. AFP Hong Kong correspondent Su Xinqi reported on one of these cases on Twitter: 

One Twitter user mocked the man-made panic using virus allegory when commenting on the cancellation of the  documentary screenings: 

#June 4 panic 

[Emoji: censor] As we approach this special occasion, the highly contagious “June 4 panic” has spread rapidly from Shenzhen to the south! According to incomplete statistics, people working in the media, movie, entertainment, education and religion sectors are most vulnerable to infection. 

[Emoji: wear mask] The virus of “June 4 panic” is very tiny, it can pass through the masks and there is no vaccine available. Hence, there are no preventive measurs against it spreading. 

All of this has had a very chilling effect: Even online commemoration of the Tiananmen crackdown takes courage as the sedition law covers any words shared on social media, yet there are still courageous people. Former convenor of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the now disbanded host of the annual Tiananmen Vigil announced a 34-hour hunger strike in prison.

Chow, as well as Albert Ho, and Lee Cheuk-yan are in jail pending a “foreign collusion” trial in court for their organizer's role in the Hong Kong Alliance.  

On Facebook, some continued resisting self-censorship and reminded each other of the history of the Tiananmen crackdown. Andrew To, former chairman of the League of Social Democrats, for example, said,

今天是六四「三十四」周年,我個人在此重申:「不想回憶! 未敢忘記」!

大家細心玩昧上述八個字,可為測試每一個人的道徳底線。面對大是大非,我們要有「說不」的堅持,、「反對」的勇氣,甚或乎「抵制」的良知。對於當局近日連番對「特別日子」的「恐嚇」,大家記在心中 ,千萬不要讓他們的計謀得逞。



Today is the 34 anniversary of June 4. I speak for myself: “I don’t want to remember, but I can’t forget!”

What I am saying is an ethical issue. We have to insist on speaking against and resisting the wrongs. We must see the threats surrounding the “special occasion” made by the authorities and not fall into their plot.

Let’s stick to the saying: Persevere not just when you see hope, but see hope as you indeed persevere. In solidarity!

Hong Kong was the centre for the commemoration of June 4 until 2020 due to the pandemic restrictions and the enactment of the National Security Law. Now diaspora Hongkongers have spread the annual commemoration across the world:

And the June 4 Museum, which was shut down in 2021 in Hong Kong, has moved to New York:

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