Hong Kong Tiananmen memorials muted for third consecutive year

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Hong Kong memorials for the anniversary of Tiananmen Square massacre were absent for the third year in a row on Saturday, as COVID-19 curbs and a crackdown on freedoms suppress public recognition of the event.

No group applied to hold the once-annual vigil in Victoria Park, which previously attracted as many as 180,000 people holding candles and listening to speeches calling for greater democracy. The group that organized the June 4 event disbanded in September under the pressure of a national security probe.

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Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday that any events would be subject to the national security law and pandemic curbs that limit public gatherings to four people. She declined to say whether lighting a candle at home would cross the government’s “red lines” on marking the event.

On Friday, the government said much of Victoria Park, where the vigil had been held for three decades, would be closed from 11:30 p.m. local time until early Sunday “to prevent any unauthorized assemblies that could affect public safety and public order or result in the spread of COVID-19.

Hong Kong was for decades the only place on Chinese soil where the deadly 1989 crackdown on students by the Communist Party in Tiananmen Square could be openly discussed. That has changed since Beijing imposed a security law on Hong Kong in June 2020 that outlawed acts aimed at “overthrowing or undermining” the basic system of China’s one-party rule.

Authorities in September seized assets from a museum in Hong Kong memorializing the event, prompting organizers to shut it down. They also charged key organizers of the vigil with inciting subversion under the security law.

Shortly after, the University of Hong Kong removed a two-ton “Pillar of Shame” sculpture, saying it now posed “legal risks” after 24 years on campus. An artwork depicting Tiananmen Square was taken away from Lingnan University, while the Chinese University of Hong Kong relocated a Goddess of Democracy statue.

Libraries have removed books documenting the crackdown and when Disney+ launched in the financial hub in November it omitted an episode of “The Simpsons from its local streaming section that referenced China’s censorship of the event.”

In the missing episode, the cartoon family visits the Beijing square where a sign reads: “Tien An Men Square: on this site, in 1989, nothing happened.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement on Friday commemorating the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, saying the efforts of those “brave individuals will not be forgotten.” The US and many around the world continue to stand up on their behalf to support peaceful efforts to promote democracy and the rights of individuals, he said.

“To the people of China and to those who continue to stand against injustice and seek freedom, we will not forget June 4,” Blinken said in the statement.

China has long prohibited public discussion of the crackdown, which saw Communist Party leaders send troops into Tiananmen Square and the surrounding streets to violently clear protesters, killing anywhere from hundreds to as many as 2,600 people. That event has been explained in official accounts in China as a necessary effort to stop “counter-revolutionary riots.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Thursday at a regular press briefing in Beijing dismissed ongoing calls from victims and their families for compensation and an apology from the government.

“About the political turbulence that happened in the late 1980s, the Chinese government has made a clear conclusion on that a long time ago,” he said. “Next question, please.”

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