Hong Kong— A record number of Hongkongers attended the Tiananmen Square vigil on the evening of June 4 to mark the 30th anniversary of the crackdown on student protests that held the world transfixed in 1989.
According to the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, 180,000 people showed up for the vigil, but police have placed the number closer to 37,000.
Last year, the Alliance said that 115,000 attended the candlelight demonstration to remember and honour those who lost their lives in Tiananmen Square, while police said there were only 37,000 attendees.
Attendees observed a minute of silence in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park in remembrance of the dead. Reportedly as many as 1,000 people were killed in Tiananmen Square, although the official number has never been released.
This year, in the months leading up to June 4, several activists have been arrested or “disappeared,” most likely to prevent the remembrance of June 4, 1989, an event that is greeted with deafening silence in China.
At the same time that activists have been detained, live-streaming services have also scheduled maintenance work for this time, meaning they will be unavailable for people to use on the day of the anniversary.
On June 2, Sunday, General Wei Fenghe, the Defence Minister of China, justified the events of June 4, 1989, one of the rare times when the matter was officially and publicly spoken about.
At a forum on national security in Singapore, General Wei said, “That incident was a political turbulence and the central government took measures to stop the turbulence.”
He also suggested that the sharp crackdown on dissent at Tiananmen Square aided with the country’s economic ascent in the last three decades.
Events to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the bloody crackdown were held in different parts around the globe, but Hong Kong is the only part of China where a memorial on this scale can be held, as the June 4, 1989 events are barely talked about in mainland China, leading experts to wonder how much longer Beijing will tolerate the annual memorial event at Victoria Park.
Many of the attendees come annually, but there were also some who came for the first time.
Concerns over revisions to the existing extradition law made this year’s commemoration even more significant, since these amendments would expedite criminal suspects standing trial in mainland China.
Analysts believe that these changes will curtail freedoms in Hong Kong’s legal system, as well as allow Beijing freer access to people considered to be enemies of the state.
Solicitor Albert Ho from the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China believes that the new extradition bill was one of the reasons for the record turnout, and that an even bigger crowd can be expected on June 9, at the demonstration against the bill.
South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports him as saying, ”I am very moved by this immense turnout.
Seeking vindication for the pro-democracy movement in China and fighting to protect our basic freedom in Hong Kong are tied. There is a common thread.”
League of Social Democrats’ John Tsui compared the law to “essentially putting a knife over the heads of everyone in Hong Kong,” and said that it would restrict “the freedom of speech in Hong Kong and freedom to protest, basically anything Beijing doesn’t like,” according to a report in TIME.
He said, “It is going to be used to target anyone not to the PRCs liking.”
The protestors showed that the struggle for greater freedoms in China lives on. Chants of We want justice!” and “Let’s build a democratic China!” could be heard throughout the event, which included testimonies from the Tiananmen Square survivors, as well as artistic performances. / TISG