Vbanners warning of “Chaos in the Name of Faith” have been hung in some churches in Hong Kong. “Churchgoers, watch out that you do not violate the national security law,” it says in threatening words. The reason: Seven churches have announced memorial services for the victims of the Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 1989 this Friday. It could be the only place in town where gatherings aren’t broken up by the police.
So far, Victoria Park has served as the location for the annual vigil. Since 1990 tens of thousands have gathered there to commemorate the bloody suppression of the democracy movement in Beijing. Last year, the rally was banned for the first time, officially because of Corona. Nevertheless, thousands more came to the green area. This will probably not happen again this year: According to local media reports, around 7,000 police officers are supposed to enforce the ban on the vigil. 3,000 of them alone are to take a stand around Victoria Park.
A candle as a crime?
Instead, many Hong Kong residents plan to light a candle at home or in other parts of the city, or hold their illuminated cell phone screen aloft when it gets dark. But the fear remains. Nobody knows for sure whether the police have already classified lighting a candle or wearing the protest color black as a criminal offense. Last year activist Joshua Wong was sentenced to 10 months in prison for participating in the vigil alone.
The fact that the Hong Kong government is pulling out all the stops to suppress the memory of the massacre was also shown on Wednesday when the Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene Department opened an investigation against the operators of the June Fourth Museum. “We have decided to close the museum until further notice in order to protect the safety of our employees and visitors,” announced the Alliance to Support the Democracy Movement.
Even beyond its own borders, China is trying to prevent people from remembering the events of June 4th. A website of Hong Kong democracy activists who fled overseas was recently shut down. London-based activist Nathan Law posted a letter on Twitter on Thursday in which the Hong Kong police asked the Israeli website operator Wix to shut down the site. The reason given is that the content violated the Hong Kong “Security Act”. Legislators claim that the law is also internationally applicable outside Hong Kong.
“Not visible in China”
It was also announced this week that the LinkedIn network “does not make certain content of private accounts visible in China”. China had already put pressure on a foreign platform last year: The American video conference provider Zoom then interrupted several online commemorative events on the Tiananmen massacre and blocked the accounts of activists from New York and Hong Kong. In the United States, charges have now been brought against the responsible Zoom employee, who is based in China.
In mainland China, as every year, numerous dissidents were placed under house arrest or “on vacation”, as the temporary forced accommodation in hotels is euphemistically called. This is to prevent them from giving interviews or organizing private memorial meetings. Every year in Tiananmen Square, security measures are tightened to prevent even the smallest gesture of remembrance. Two members of the Mothers of Tiananmen Square, a self-help group of relatives of the victims, managed to speak on the Hong Kong radio RTHK. “Even if there is no vigil in Victoria Park, people will remember the massacre in their hearts and remember the victims,” said Zhang Xianling.
On the mainland, however, the memorial ban has long since achieved the desired effect. Many young people know almost nothing about the protest movement of 1989 and its bloody end. This is shown by an incident in 2007: At that time, the Chengdu Evening News published a classified ad honoring the “strong-willed mothers of the victims of June 4th”. The newspaper later announced that the responsible employee had accepted the ad because she believed the advertiser that it was about the victims of a mine accident.