A man walked down a Hong Kong street on Friday wearing a shirt hand-painted with “There is nothing to say”. The previous night an artist held a placard aloft reading: “Don’t go to Victoria Park and light candles”.
On any other day these sights would have been confusing, but on Friday they were a small symbol of resistance to authorities’ efforts to stop anyone from commemorating the 4 June 1989 massacre of student protesters in Beijing.
Hong Kong has long been the traditional home of public remembrance of the Tiananmen Square massacre, with an annual vigil in Victoria Park, attended by tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of people.
But amid a deepening crackdown on resistance, opposition and freedom of assembly, the city’s police banned the 2021 event. After initially citing pandemic-related restrictions, they soon made it clear they were also treating the vigil as an unauthorised political act, invoking the national security law in warning people to stay away.
Determined to mark the event regardless, Hongkongers have had to become creative. One campaign has called for people to write the numbers 4 and 6 (representing the day and month of the massacre) on their light switches at home. On Wednesday evening, artists laid flowers on the street, or painted banners, while young people sat in Victoria Park and studied.
Others laid flowers and candles at the Goddess of Democracy statue in the Chinese University of Hong Kong campus. In 2010 the statue was at the centre of controversy after the university refused an application to have it permanently stationed on site, sparking protests.
In a Facebook message posted from prison, the activist and longtime vigil organiser Lee Cheuk-yan said that at 8pm he would be using cigarettes to replace candles to mourn for the soul of the 4 June movement.
The UK consulate in Hong Kong tweeted a captionless photo of a burning candle.
A police senior superintendent, Liauw Ka-kei, was asked by media if wearing black clothes or lighting candles near the park was illegal. He said it wasn’t easy to answer, but that people knew “full well” if they were joining an unauthorised assembly.
Thousands of officers patrolled the city, shutting down Victoria Park and local sporting fields, and arrested a vigil organiser in the early hours. Apple Daily reported armoured cars and a water cannon heading towards the area. Near Victoria Park a local reporter filmed police delivering a caution to a man who held a sign reading “conscience”.
In the afternoon police set up roadblocks at multiple cross-harbour tunnels, banking up traffic, as they stopped and searched vehicles heading to the main island.
Some activities appeared to go ahead without interference, including the laying of flowers and ceremonial washing of the Pillar of Shame monument inside Hong Kong university.
In Causeway Bay activists set up street booths, protesting against the detention of “political prisoners” and asking: “Is speaking our mind a crime?”