Hong Kong police have arrested a prominent barrister for allegedly promoting an unauthorised assembly on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, as thousands of officers were deployed to enforce a ban on protests and gatherings across the city.
Police confirmed that barrister and activist Chow Hang Tung, vice-chairwoman of the group which organises annual vigils for the victims of China’s 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, was arrested. A 20-year-old male was also detained on suspicion of publicising an unlawful assembly through social media posts.
“Their online remarks involved advertising and calling on others to participate or attend banned public activities,” senior superintendent Law Kwok-hoi told reporters.
Discussion of Beijing’s brutal military crackdown on the evening of 3 June and morning of 4 June, 1989 is all but forbidden on the mainland. And Hong Kong’s traditional status as the only place in China where large-scale commemorations were tolerated appeared to be coming to an end.
Thousands of police were deployed on Friday to enforce a ban on the city’s traditional candlelight vigil, which has drawn huge crowds to Victoria Park on 4 June for more than three decades. The day has traditionally served as a display of pro-democracy people power that China has made clear it will no longer tolerate.
Authorities banned this year’s gathering citing the coronavirus pandemic – although Hong Kong has not recorded an untraceable local transmission in more than a month, and held large public events. Police have also cited the national security law in warning people not to gather for unnamed events, and reminded the public of the recent convictions of some activists.
Police say that thousands of officers will be on standby to halt any “unlawful assemblies” while officials have also warned that a sweeping new national security law could be wielded against Tiananmen mourners.
Public broadcaster RTHK, citing unnamed sources, reported police would have 7,000 officers on the streets on Friday, conducting stop-and-search operations throughout the day.
While last year’s vigil was also denied permission because of the pandemic, thousands simply defied the ban.
But much has changed in Hong Kong over the last year as authorities seek to snuff out the city’s pro-democracy movement using the security law to criminalise much dissent. Police arrested 24 activists as organisers of the vigil, and several were convicted and jailed.
Most of the city’s most prominent democracy figures – many of whom would organise and attend the annual Tiananmen vigils – are in jail, have been arrested or have fled overseas, after Beijing imposed a controversial national security law in Hong Kong last year.
Veteran political journalist Ching Cheong, who was jailed in China for three years, said the perseverance of Hong Kong in holding the…