HONG KONG — Police arrested an organizer of Hong Kong's annual candlelight vigil commemorating the deadly Tiananmen Square crackdown and warned people not to attend the banned event Friday as the city mutes its pro-democracy voices.
Hong Kong had been the last place on Chinese soil where the June 4, 1989, event was publicly commemorated, and tens of thousands of people gathered in Victoria Park in past years to honor the victims who died when China's military put down student-led pro-democracy protests.
In the Beijing square on Friday morning, security was increased and police checked identities of pedestrians while tour buses shuttled Chinese tourists onto the square as on any other day.
When the Hong Kong vigil was banned for the second year, authorities cited the risks of large crowds gathering during the coronavirus pandemic. But the action comes amid sweeping moves to control the city, including a new national security law, election changes and arrests of many activists who participated in pro-democracy protests that swept Hong Kong in 2019.
Law Kwok-hoi, senior superintendent of the Hong Kong police force, urged residents not to attend the banned vigil. Taking part in an illegal gathering has a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.
Law also told reporters police had arrested a 36-year-old woman from the Hong Kong Alliance, as well as a 20-year-old food delivery man for advertising and publicizing an unauthorized assembly on their social media accounts even after the vigil was banned.
The alliance confirmed the arrest of its vice chair, Chow Hang Tung, on Friday morning.
The alliance organized the vigil and ran the June 4 Museum dedicated to remembering Tiananmen. The museum was closed this week.
After police issued an earlier warning that gathering for the vigil may be illegal, Chow has continued her activism, urging people to commemorate the event privately by lighting a candle wherever they are.
Last year, thousands went to Victoria Park to light candles and sing songs in remembrance despite the ban. Police later charged more than 20 activists including Chow for their participation in the unauthorized assembly.
Two other key members of the Hong Kong Alliance — Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho — are behind bars for their participation in separate unauthorized assemblies in 2019, during a period when Hong Kong saw massive anti-government protests.
Chow, a barrister in Hong Kong, said in an earlier interview with The Associated Press that she was expecting to be imprisoned at some point for her activism. She has been part of the Hong Kong Alliance since 2010.
“I’m already being persecuted for participating and inciting last year’s candlelight vigil,” she said.
“If I continue my activism in pushing for democracy in Hong Kong and China, surely they will come after me at some point, so it’s sort of expected.”