Thousands of demonstrators have defied the ban in Hong Kong to attend a mass vigil in memory of Beijing’s 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown victims, reports BBC News.
Barricades were placed around Victoria Park by officers but were knocked down by pro-democracy protestors who held candlelit gatherings. The vigil was banned by police this year due to coronavirus restrictions.
Previously, it became illegal to insult the national anthem in China as a result of a controversial bill approved by lawmakers.
Security guards took away two legislators ahead of the vote, after they threw foul-smelling liquid at the chamber floor. The legislators said they were protesting China’s expanding control over Hong Kong as well as marking the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident.
The recent events follow a new security law that is being drawn up by the Chinese government for Hong Kong. The move may further raise tensions.
Hong Kong has held an annual vigil since 1990 though referencing the crackdown is banned on the mainland. It is something that’s very rarely mentioned by the government.
On June 4, 1989, tanks and troops opened fire in Beijing on pro-democracy protestors. Estimations of the number of casualties range from hundreds to several thousand.
The anniversary is usually marked by thousands of people in Hong Kong though police said that they would deploy 3,000 riot officers to stop small commemorations.
Pro-democracy slogans were shouted at Victoria Park including "End one party rule" and "Stand with Hong Kong."
"I've come here for the vigil for 30 years in memory of the victims of the June 4 crackdown, but this year it is more significant to me," one 74-year-old man said when speaking with AFP.
"Because Hong Kong is experiencing the same kind of repression from the same regime, just like what happened in Beijing."
Other locations in Hong Kong also saw candlelit vigils.
In Mong Kok district, Brenda Hui said, "We are afraid this will be the last time we can have a ceremony but Hong Kongers will always remember what happened on June 4."
Hong Kong’s virus rules currently allow a maximum of eight people to gather in groups. But police said to South China Morning Post that groups coming together for a “common purpose” would be moved.
Taiwan and the U.S. have both said the country should apologize for the crackdown.
"Around the world, there are 365 days in a year. Yet in China, one of those days is purposely forgotten each year," tweeted Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's President.
The foreign ministry in China described the calls as "complete nonsense".
"The great achievements since the founding of new China over the past 70 or so years fully demonstrates that the developmental path China has chosen is completely correct," said spokesman Zhao Lijian to reporters.
The new law includes steep fines and as much as three years in prison for those who disrespect the national anthem in China. In Hong Kong, many see the move as a way for Beijing to weaken the "one country, two systems" policy in the region.
The bill passed in Hong Kong’s parliament on Thursday after receiving 41 votes to one. Pro-democracy voters did not vote, according to the South China Morning Post.
The anthem has often received boos in recent years at matches with the Hong Kong football team and a large number of fans have started singing Glory to Hong Kong instead.
The Chinese government also wants a security law for Hong Kong that would make undermining Beijing’s authority a crime. The law would possibly involve China’s own security agencies being installed in the city which would be a first.
Many fear that Hong Kong’s freedom’s would be further taken away by the law. They also worry that the bill could stop Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Square vigils—even when the pandemic is finished.
The draft law is expected to begin in September. The last time the government attempted to bring in a national security law, it was forced to back down following public anger in 2003.