China tightens security to prevent Hong Kong commemorating Tiananmen protests

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By Philip Andrew Churm  with AFP
June 4 1989 Chinese Authorities Crackdown On Protesters
June 4 1989 Chinese Authorities Crackdown On Protesters   -  Copyright  Jeff Widener/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests has been marked by heightened security in Hong Kong. 

On 4 June, 33 years ago, Chinese troops were ordered to violently suppress student-led unrest in and around the square in China's capital Beijing. Estimates of the number of pro-democracy protestors killed ranges from several hundred to 10,000. 

Since then, Chinese authorities have banned any public commemoration of the event.

On Saturday, police in Hong Kong warned the public not to gather on the Tiananmen anniversary, in a bid to try and wipe away any reminders of the deadly episode in Chinese history.

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong had previously been one place in China where large-scale remembrance was still tolerated, until two years ago, when Beijing imposed a national security law to quash dissent after huge pro-democracy protests in 2019. 

Authorities made multiple arrests on Saturday, with AFP reporters seeing at least half a dozen people detained and taken away by police. 

Police confirmed that an 80-year-old man was arrested for obstructing officers earlier in the day, but have yet to confirm the number of arrests made after nightfall.

Warnings were issued by authorities ahead of the day that "participating in an unauthorised assembly" risked the maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment.

These actions have been seen by activists in Hong Kong as part of China's broader agenda to stifle political dissent.

Victoria Park in Hong Kong, once the site of annual candlelight vigils, was closed Saturday night, with a heavy police presence in the surrounding streets. 

As night fell, dozens of scattered people turned on their phone lights around the park.

Police soon told them over a megaphone to switch their torches off, warning people they risked breaching the law on unauthorised assembly.

When asked how this action could constitute a crime, an officer told AFP he would "leave it to my colleagues to explain in a press conference".

China's erasure of public displays commemorating Tiananmen Square has become near total in Hong Kong since Beijing enacted a national security law on the island in 2020.

Six universities in Hong Kong have removed June 4th monuments that stood on their campuses for years. 

Last December Hong Kong University removed its so-called "Pillar of Shame" commemorating the victims of the massacre.

Annual Catholic memorial masses, one of the last ways for Hong-kongers to come together publicly to remember Tiananmen, were cancelled this year, as they feared breaching the law.