Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong were preparing for a candlelight vigil Tuesday commemorating the 30th anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen crackdown, underscoring concern for Chinese human rights in the semi-autonomous territory, even as its own civil liberties are under threat.
Hong Kong is the only region under Beijing’s jurisdiction that holds significant public commemorations of the 1989 crackdown and memorials for its victims. Hong Kong has a degree of freedom not seen on the mainland as a legacy of British rule that ended in 1997.
The annual event beginning at 8 p.m. at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park near the bustling Causeway Bay shopping district is expected to attract tens of thousands of participants.
This year’s vigil will feature a replica of the “Goddess of Democracy,” a plaster sculpture of a female figure holding a torch that was displayed in Tiananmen Square in the days leading up to the 1989 crackdown, which took place on the night of June 3-4 and is believed to have killed hundreds and possibly thousands of people.
“That statue was crushed by tanks at the June 4 crackdown, the June 4 massacre. So we are rebuilding this here … to symbolize that we are still continuing to fight for democracy, and continue on the spirit of the ’89 democratic protests,” said Chow Hang Tung, vice chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which organizes the annual vigil.
Visitor Winnie Ma, a 55-year-old church worker, said she brought her 80-year-old mother out to the park especially to view the statue on the 30th anniversary.
“I don’t know if she will see it vindicated, but I hope that I will be able to,” Ma said.
Meanwhile, at the University of Hong Kong, a dozen students laid flower bouquets at the “Pillar of Shame,” a sculpture by Danish artist Jens Galschiot commemorating the crackdown’s victims.
“Just because I wasn’t born then and never experienced the event, there’s no stopping me from reminding others like me of this and carrying on the collective memory,” said 18-year-old student Donald Chung.
Thirty years ago, the Tiananmen protesters gained widespread support and sympathy from residents of Hong Kong, whose return to Chinese rule had been agreed upon just years earlier. Hong Kong supporters helped sustain the protests with donated funds and equipment and, following the crackdown, mobilized to smuggle wanted student leaders out of the country, sometimes with the assistance of organized crime groups known as triads.
The spirit of political activism has now passed to a younger generation, crystalizing in the 2014 Occupy protests, also known as the Umbrella Movement, which laid siege to Hong Kong government headquarters and paralyzed the city’s financial district for 79 days.
The movement fizzled with no concessions from the Hong Kong government for free elections, and the authorities have since cracked down hard on its leaders, sentencing nine in April on public nuisance and other charges.
More recently, activists, as well as business and legal associations, have protested amendments making it easier to send criminal suspects in Hong Kong to mainland China, where they could face vague national security charges and unfair trials.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has been seen as extending his crackdown on civil liberties to Hong Kong, threatening the territory’s promised semi-autonomy.
A march against the amendments is scheduled for Sunday ahead of the government’s expected push for passage on June 12.