Commemorations in Hong Kong of the Tiananmen Square massacre have largely been snuffed out, as authorities have sought to crush observance of the crackdown on student protesters in a city that has typically held the biggest annual vigil on Chinese soil.
The anniversary is one of the most sensitive events for Chinese authorities, with discussion of the demonstrations censored on the mainland and survivors or victims’ families routinely detained or interrogated.
Hong Kong hosted the world’s largest yearly commemoration every June 4 until it was banned in 2020, a year after pro-democracy protests engulfed the Chinese territory. Authorities subsequently imposed a sweeping crackdown on opposition and Beijing extended its control of the quasi-autonomous city.
Officials said the ban two years ago was to control the coronavirus pandemic but critics accused the government of using the health crisis as a pretext for stifling dissent.
Leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the group which traditionally organised the vigil, have been arrested and many are in jail. Chow Hang-tung, one of the jailed organisers, often uses her court appearances to evoke memories of the massacre.
Authorities this year closed Victoria Park, where tens of thousands of residents typically light candles to commemorate the event, from Friday night until early Sunday morning to prevent “unauthorised assemblies”.
Police monitored the area after a small number of artists performed near the park on Friday and were quickly ushered away or taken for questioning.
Some residents also found subtle ways to commemorate the massacre.
The Catholic church has marked the event in special masses for more than three decades but has been stung by the arrest of Cardinal Zen, its former top cleric, last month. He was accused of failing to register a fund set up to help pay the legal and medical fees of participants in the 2019 protests. Cardinal Zen has denied the charges.
At a morning mass in Kowloon on Saturday, about 30 people prayed for those “who died for justice” despite the Catholic diocese cancelling services to mark the massacre.
“Public memorials may be gone this year, but what I remember in my heart, you cannot make it disappear,” said one congregant.
Hong Kong students have also been trying to commemorate the protests. Universities have been a focal point of Beijing’s attempts to destroy support for the 2019 pro-democracy protests and longstanding memorials to the Tiananmen Square massacre on campuses have been removed.
The “Pillar of Shame”, an eight-metre sculpture by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt that was on display at the University of Hong Kong since 1997, was dismantled in December.
The “Goddess of Democracy” statue at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, a replica of a monument erected by the student protesters in Tiananmen Square, was also removed that month.
CUHK students this week created tiny replicas of the missing artwork and hid them around the campus for others to find before the event was ended due to “increasing risks”, the organisers said.
In Macau, one of the only other parts of China where memorial events were held until they were banned from 2020, no public commemorations will be held after authorities said last year’s events could constitute “subversion”.
Tiananmen Square vigils were planned overseas, including in London and Taiwan, this weekend.