Hong Kong police detained eight people, including activists and artists, on the eve of the 34th anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown, a move that signals the city’s shrinking freedom of expression.
Police said in a statement late Saturday that four people have been arrested for allegedly disrupting order in public spaces or carrying out acts with seditious intent. Four others were taken away for investigation on suspicion of breaching public peace.
For decades, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers held an annual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park each June 4 to commemorate the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, in which tanks rolled into the heart of Beijing and hundreds, possibly thousands, of people were killed.
During the pandemic, protests in Hong Kong were rare due to Covid-19 restrictions. In addition, many activists there have been silenced or jailed after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law following massive protests in 2019.
When the British handed Hong Kong to Beijing in 1997, it was promised 50 years of self-government and freedoms of assembly, speech and press that are not allowed on the Chinese mainland, but critics say those freedoms are being eroded.
This year’s Tiananmen commemoration is expected to be muted. Many Hong Kongers are trying to mark the event in private ways because it is unclear what authorities might consider subversive.
Earlier Saturday, activists Kwan Chun-pong and Lau Ka-yee were detained after appearing near the former site of the candlelight vigil to say they would not eat for around 24 hours to mourn the victims.
“We will now start fasting at 6:04 p.m.,” Lau said with flowers in her hand, referencing the June 4 date of the crackdown. They also held papers that said they were fasting and mourning those killed in Tiananmen.
This relatively mild act of protest nevertheless prompted police officers to arrive within minutes and cordon off the pair, who later put red tape over their mouths. An officer warned them that they might be breaching the law for having seditious intent, and ordered them to stop their activities or they might be arrested.
Minutes later, they were taken away by police. Police said the two were arrested on suspicion of carrying out acts with seditious intent. Officers also arrested another woman for the same offense in a separate incident, they added.
As night fell, police took away five others, including two artists, Sanmu Chen and Chan Mei-tung.
Surrounded by police officers, Samnu Chen chanted: “Hong Kongers, do not be afraid. Don’t forget tomorrow is June 4.” Chan Mei-tung had been standing and walking on a street in Causeway Bay before being cordoned off by police.
Police later said officers ordered Chen to leave after he had drawn the attention of passersby. Chen refused to cooperate after warnings and was arrested for alleged disorderly conduct in a public place, they said.
It is unclear whether other activists will show up to publicly commemorate the anniversary on Sunday. The park will instead be occupied by a carnival organized by pro-Beijing groups to celebrate Hong Kong’s handover to Chinese rule. Organizers say it will feature a bazaar with food from across China.