Hong Kong democracy leader detained on Tiananmen anniversary

Hong Kong: Hong Kong police detained a democracy leader on Friday morning as authorities sought to prevent any public commemoration of the anniversary of Beijing’s deadly Tiananmen crackdown.

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Thousands of officers were on standby after the government banned an annual candlelight vigil that has served for decades as a day of pro-democracy people power in the city.

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The first arrest came early Friday morning when Chow Hang-tung, one of the few remaining prominent democracy activists not already in jail was detained by four officers outside her office.

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Chow, 37, is one of the vice-chair of the Hong Kong Alliance which organises the annual vigil.

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A police source tsaid she had been detained on suspicion of publicising an unlawful assembly.

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Huge crowds have traditionally gathered in Hong Kong to mark the anniversary of Chinese troops crushing peaceful democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

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Hundreds of people were killed in the crackdown, by some estimates more than 1,000.

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Public commemorations of the event are forbidden on the mainland.

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Under the one-China, two systems policy that was meant to give Hong Kong more freedoms, the city was the only place on Chinese soil where large-scale commemorations were tolerated.

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The biggest events in Hong Kong were at Victoria Park, where candlelit vigils were held to remember those killed and to call on China to embrace democracy.

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Authorities banned this year’s gathering citing the coronavirus pandemic — although Hong Kong has not recorded an untraceable local transmission in more than a month.

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While last year’s vigil was also denied permission because of the pandemic, thousands simply defied the ban.

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But much has changed in Hong Kong over the last year as authorities seek to snuff out the city’s pro-democracy movement using a powerful new national security law to criminalise much dissent.

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Officials have warned the subversion clause of that law could be used against those marking Tiananmen.

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Most of the city’s most prominent democracy figures — many of whom would organise and attend the annual Tiananmen vigils — are in jail, have been arrested or have fled overseas.

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Remember in private

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The threat of mass arrests has forced those who would normally attend the vigil to think creatively.

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Activists have called on residents to light candles in their own homes or neighbourhoods come Friday evening, or post commemoration messages on social media.

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One campaign has called for Hong Kongers to write the numbers 6 and 4 — representing June 4 — on light switches at home.

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“A regime can ban an assembly but it can never ban the indelible grievances in people’s hearts,” Lee Cheuk-yan, a now jailed democracy activist, wrote in a message published on his Facebook page on Thursday.

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“I hope everyone can find your own way to light a candle by the window, on the road, wherever that can be seen by others, to continue our mourning,” he added.

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Clara Cheung was among a small group of artists who gathered near Victoria Park on Thursday evening.

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She brought 64 white flowers and laid them on the street.

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“We need to find a new way to express ourselves,” she told AFP.

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Much like the initial generation of Tiananmen survivors who fled abroad three decades ago, many Hong Kong democracy figures have chosen self-exile and plan to lead their own commemorations overseas.

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Vigils are planned in cities like Tokyo, Sydney, Taipei, London, Berlin and Washington.

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In mainland China, the Tiananmen anniversary is usually marked with a dramatic increase in online censorship and the square in Beijing being cordoned off.

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Security law

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Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong just a few weeks after last year’s rally in response to 2019’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.

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It has transformed the city’s once freewheeling political landscape.

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More than 100 pro-democracy figures have been arrested under the new law, mostly for political views and speech.

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Most are denied bail and face up to life in prison if convicted.

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Pro-Beijing politicians have suggested that calls to “End one party rule” and “Bring democracy to China” — both common chants at Tiananmen vigils — could now be deemed subversion, one of the national security crimes in the broadly worded law.

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The security legislation has been combined with a new campaign dubbed “Patriots rule Hong Kong” aimed at purging anyone perceived to be disloyal from public office.

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China says the measures have restored stability.

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Critics, including many western governments, say the crackdown has shredded Beijing’s promise that Hong Kong could maintain key freedoms after its 1997 handover from Britain to China.

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