Hong Kong police on Friday arrested prominent pro-democracy activist Chow Hang Tung for allegedly promoting an unauthorized assembly on the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The arrest of Chow, 37, vice-chairwoman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, came as thousands of police were deployed to patrol the city’s streets to halt any “unlawful assemblies.”
Before Hong Kong authorities banned residents from participating in events in memory of the 1989 pro-democracy protests for the second year in a row, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China had organized annual vigils.
Authorities canceled the event on June 1, again citing the ongoing CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic as grounds for doing so. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on June 1 that all agencies, groups, media outlets, and schools should conform to the Beijing-imposed National Security Law.
After the ban was announced, Chow had encouraged people to privately commemorate the event by lighting a candle wherever they are.
“She [Chow] only wanted to go to Victoria Park, light a candle and commemorate,” Chiu Yan Loy, Executive Member of the Alliance, told Reuters, adding he believed the arrest was meant to strike fear into those planning to attend the vigil.
Barrister Chow, who was detained by four officers outside her office according to AFP, told Reuters this week before her arrest that June 4 was a test for Hong Kong “of whether we can defend our bottom line of morality.”
“As long as they haven’t said candles are illegal, we will light a candle,” she said.
Hong Kong police senior superintendent Terry Law confirmed the arrest of Chow, as well as a 20-year-old food delivery man, but declined to elaborate on specifics, noting that it’s part of an ongoing investigation.
Thousands of Hong Kong citizens last year defied the ban and took part in the traditional candlelight vigil at Victoria Park. At the same time, activists and groups who were once vocal and critical of the CCP have grown increasingly silent and fearful of repercussions since Beijing imposed its sweeping National Security Law on Hong Kong.
Beijing’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, bypassed Hong Kong’s local legislature in late May 2020 to enact the legislation that would criminalize activities connected to subversion, succession, terrorism, and foreign interference.
In May, prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was sentenced to 10 months in prison after pleading guilty to participating in last year’s vigil, while three others were handed four-to-six-month sentences. Twenty more are due in court on June 11 on similar charges.
“A regime can ban an assembly but it can never ban the indelible grievances in people’s hearts,” Lee Cheuk-yan, a now-jailed pro-democracy activist, wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday.
“I hope everyone can find your own way to light a candle by the window, on the road, wherever that can be seen by others, to continue our mourning,” he added.
The CCP has never released a full account of the violence that occurred on June 4, 1989.
On June 3-4, 1989, the CCP ordered its troops to open fire on protesters, following weeks of student-led protests that started on April 15, 1989, centered at Tiananmen Square. Activists were advocating for more freedoms, economic and democratic reforms, among other changes.
Days later, the CCP announced a death toll of about 300, most of them soldiers. However, rights groups and witnesses say thousands of people died. Unnamed sources within the CCP say at least 10,000 people were killed, according to a declassified British diplomatic cable and declassified White House documents.
The United States said Thursday that Beijing’s Tiananmen Square is now “synonymous with the brutal actions” of the CCP in 1989.
“These individuals had a noble and simple request: Recognize and respect our human rights, which are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Instead of meeting this request with dignity and open debate, [People’s Republic of China] authorities responded with violence,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“The courage of the brave individuals who stood shoulder-to-shoulder on June 4 reminds us that we must never stop seeking transparency on the events of that day, including a full accounting of all those killed, detained, or missing,” he added.
Mimi Nguyen Ly and Reuters contributed to this report.