By Jessie Pang and James Pomfret
HONGKONG – Hong Kong barrister and activist Chow Hang Tung was six years old when her mother took her to a candlelight vigil to mark the anniversary of China’s crackdown on protesters in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
Three decades later, Chow recalled how she watched then as thousands of people, some visibly upset, comforted each other as flickering candles lit up the city’s Victoria Park.
“You’d always remember passing a candle and pamphlets to each other,” Chow told Reuters. “It was like a community as one. Everyone put aside their identity and did things together.”
The experience had a profound impact on Chow, 36.
She is now vice chairwoman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, organizer of the annual vigil which authorities have cancelled for the second year in a row, citing the coronavirus.
But Chow is determined to mark the killings of what rights groups and witnesses estimate could have been thousands of demonstrators around Tiananmen Square by lighting a candle on Friday.
“As long as they haven’t said candles are illegal, we will light a candle,” she said.
“It’s a sign of whether we can defend our bottom line of morality … That’s the test.”
The security law, combined with coronavirus restrictions, have cleared the city’s streets of the pro-democracy protests that plunged the financial hub into turmoil two years ago.
Some alliance members, including Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho, are in jail for their role in unauthorised assemblies in 2019, while Chow herself is facing a charge of inciting and participating in an illegal assembly on June 4 last year. Home to the world’s largest Tiananmen vigil for three decades, Chow said Hong Kong has helped to keep the memory of the 1989 democracy movement alive.
She remains defiant despite the Security Bureau warning that taking part in an unauthorized assembly is punishable with up to five years in prison, while advertising or publicizing an illegal gathering could risk 12 months in jail.
The ban on this year’s vigil is the latest blow to democracy activists in semi-autonomous Hong Kong, many of who have been arrested, jailed or fled since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on its freest city last year.
The Hong Kong government has refused to comment on whether “end one party dictatorship”, one of the alliance’s five goals, has violated the security law, but Chow doesn’t care either way.
“Any organization or person who genuinely fights for democracy will have a fundamental conflict with ‘one party dictatorship’,” she said.
“This is something people who fight for democracy must do.”