June 4 this year will mark the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and it will be the first year since the Chinese regime implemented the national security law in Hong Kong. While a number of democracy activists were given jail terms for participating in last year’s peaceful Tiananmen memorial rally, one organization vowed to hold a candlelight vigil in Victoria Park next month, despite pressure from Beijing authorities.
Hang Tung Chow, a Hong Kong barrister and vice-president of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (the “Alliance”) said that candles in Victoria Park will be lit as usual regardless of whether or not they get permission from the authorities.
Chow told the press at a street stall event on May 9 that the Alliance has notified the police of the June 4 commemorative activities, but has yet to receive a reply.
According to Apple Daily, Richard Tsoi, secretary of the Alliance, said that the organization will meet with the police on May 20 to try to get permission for a candlelight vigil on June 4. Due to the current political situation, the Alliance says they have to be careful and “work more cautiously within the legal framework.”
On May 4, the Alliance received a notification from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which states that the department has suspended the processing of venue bookings in response to the pandemic. This means that the Victoria Park venue will not be approved.
Despite that, Chow said, the Alliance still plans to enter Victoria Park, as the rally will be legal since the police have not opposed it.
“We have our own bottom line, which is not to be crushed by their red line at will,” said Chow.
Even if the police object to the rally, she said, “They cannot oppose me going out with a candle, they cannot oppose me going anywhere with a candle. We insist on having a candlelight vigil in Victoria Park.”
Chow said that in the coming days, the Alliance will work with different organizations to put up street stalls and distribute candles to the public.
She also pointed out that under the current environment, the national security law shouldn’t hold people back from observing the June 4 incident. She hopes that more people can be motivated to help organizations set up street stalls, so that on June 4, many people can take the candles with them to places they can go. “The Alliance will also launch an online campaign so that people from different places can participate,” Chow added.
The Alliance was founded in May 1989, during the student-led democracy protests in Beijing, with Szeto Wah, one of the founding fathers of Hong Kong’s democratic movement, as its first chairman.
Participants of Last Year’s June 4 Rally Sentenced
On June 4 last year, although the Hong Kong government banned the rally in Victoria Park on the pretext of the pandemic, tens of thousands of people still entered the park to light candles. The police did not stop the public from entering, and participants left peacefully after the memorial ceremony.
However, 26 pro-democracy activists, who participated in the rally, were charged with “taking part in an unauthorized assembly.” Among them, Joshua Wong, Lester Shum, Tiffany Yuen Ka-wai, and Jannelle Rosalynne Leung were sentenced to four to 10 months in prison on May 6.
Although the rally was peaceful, Judge Stanley Chan said in his ruling: “I cannot disregard the fact that Hong Kong was and is still suffering from the volatility of public order and political turmoil in 2019. Emotion can run high and unruly elements can take advantage of any opportunity to incite and encourage violence. That is especially the case when the event was held on a special day. This is a potential risk factor that cannot be underestimated or ignored.”
After the verdict was handed down, Chow told the press outside the courthouse that the court has now obliterated the line between violent and peaceful assembly, and that the message of the court’s verdict was that all political expression and assembly must be nipped in the bud, according to a report by Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK).
She also wrote on her Facebook account: “Nazi massacres, communist totalitarianism, racial segregation, how many evils have been carried out in the name of the law and in an orderly manner?”
Among the 26 activists charged, 20 have pleaded not guilty. Nathan Law Kwun-chung fled from Hong Kong due to security reasons, and Sunny Cheung also left the city to avoid arrest.
The case will be brought back to court on June 11.
The Hong Kong national security law was implemented by Beijing in June last year, following the withdrawal of an extradition bill in October 2019, which once triggered nearly 2 million people to take to the streets on June 16 that year. The security law was drafted behind closed doors by members of China’s rubber-stamp legislature, bypassing Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. Many people feared the draconian measures could be used to override existing legal processes and erode the city’s civil and political freedoms.
Two high-profile figures of the Alliance have already been sentenced. Lee Cheuk-yan, the chairman of the organization, was sentenced to 14 months in prison for his role in a peaceful anti-extradition bill protest in August 2019 and is currently serving his sentence.
The vice-chairman of the Alliance, Albert Ho, was sentenced to 12 months in prison and two years probation for his involvement in the August 2019 protest.
Be ‘More Flexible’ or ‘Uphold Promises?’
Richard Tsoi, secretary of the Alliance, told The Epoch Times that in the face of severe legal and political risks, a flexible approach to commemorate the June 4 incident should be considered.
He said, compared to one year ago, the national security law has come into effect. The political environment is worse, and legal risks are higher.
“I think we have to think about how to be more flexible and preserve our strength while sticking to our principles,” he said.
However, Chow disagrees with him.
“Right now, it is not a question of how much strength we want to preserve for ourselves, it is how much strength the government wants to eliminate. Unless you don’t fight for democracy, unless you give up this fight, some things cannot be avoided,” she said.
Chow added that people in mainland China were sentenced to three, four, or even 10 years for commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre, and the people of Hong Kong should uphold their promises to the victims, the Tiananmen Mothers (pdf), the exiled and imprisoned brothers, sisters, and friends who have fought for democracy.
The Tiananmen Square protests, a youth-led movement advocating for democratic reforms, have become a taboo subject in China. The Chinese regime won’t disclose the number or names of those killed in the clampdown. Death toll estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.
From 1989 to 2019: Hong Kong’s Involvement in China’s Pro-democracy Movement
Although the 1989 pro-democracy movement was centered in Beijing, the people of Hong Kong were also deeply involved.
After the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) declared martial law in Beijing on May 19, 1989, more than 40,000 Hongkongers took to the streets on the following day, despite the typhoon, to oppose the crackdown.
On May 21, over 1 million Hongkongers held a protest, accounting for about one-fifth of Hong Kong’s population.
On June 4 that year, Hongkongers were horrified by the CCP’s massacre in Beijing, where at least 10,000 protesters were killed, according to British and U.S. sources. Soon after, the Alliance launched “Operation Yellowbird” and has helped a large number of student leaders and participants in the pro-democracy movement to flee from China.
Since then, for 31 consecutive years, the Alliance has held a candlelight memorial service at Victoria Park on June 4. The maximum number of participants was 180,000 in 2012, 2014, and 2019 respectively.
“The two events in 1989 and 2019 [anti-extradition bill protests] should not be forgotten, especially because so many Hong Kong people have participated in the 1989 pro-democracy movement. Whether it will be in Victoria Park or not, we can all express our mourning, condolences, and memories in different ways,” Raphael Wong, chairman of the League of Social Democrats, told The Epoch Times.