Streets and parks of Hong Kong were illuminated with candlelight as tens of thousands of people defied coronavirus restrictions on gatherings to commemorate the 31st anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square massacre on Thursday night, Al Jazeera reported. The annual vigil carried new significance on Thursday as Hong Kong people remembered not only the hundreds, and possibly thousands, killed when Chinese soldiers cracked down on pro-democracy in Beijing on June 4, 1989, but also looked ahead to a new national security law that China plans to impose and critics say will threaten Hong Kong’s civil liberties.
On early Thursday evening, however, hundreds and then thousands of people defied the order, as well as signs and fences around Victoria Park, to occupy two large football pitches where the rally has been traditionally held. Several thousand people, many clad in black, joined the rally after breaking through barriers that sealed off the area. They held signs and chanted slogans like “liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our time” and “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong”.
Lee Cheuk-yan, an organizer and former lawmaker, led the crowd in chants of “end one-party rule,” and “democracy for China!” As per CNN’s report, others chanted slogans from last year’s anti-government protests, including “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong,” and a more recent refrain, “Hong Kong independence, the only way out.”
Those slogans could be illegal in the near future, as Beijing moves to impose a national security law banning sedition, secession, and separatism. Similar laws have been used to crackdown on dissidents and pro-democracy activists in China. Hong Kong has long been the only place to hold a mass commemoration of the June 4 crackdown over which mainland authorities do not allow any open discussion and censors remove any mention of it from the Internet.
That national security law which Beijing has said is necessary to prevent the type of violent unrest seen last year is currently being drafted by China and will be imposed automatically in Hong Kong via a rarely used constitutional backdoor, bypassing the city’s legislature. The Hong Kong city police had responded to earlier protests with overwhelming numbers and used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse several gatherings in recent weeks. But on Thursday, there was a complete reversal in tactics, as police stayed largely out of sight as several thousand people ignored fences and signs to gather illegally in Victoria Park.
The next major test, of both the pro-democracy movement and the authorities, will come as early as next week, which sees two key anniversaries of last year’s protest movement. About 1 million people marched against an extradition bill with China on June 9, 2019, while three days later, protesters blockaded the city’s legislature and clashed with police to prevent the law being passed. It was eventually withdrawn in September 2019, by which point the anti-government movement had grown substantially, with its goals expanded beyond a single bill.