HONG KONG, China — Hong Kong police have reportedly curtailed a vigil for the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, citing public health concerns.
The cancellation of the annual vigil comes after the Chinese legislature last week moved to impose security laws on Hong Kong that democracy advocates say completely undermine the region’s autonomy.
On Monday, the city’s police force sent a letter to the organizer of the Tiananmen vigil saying that the annual event could not take place out of caution for spreading the new coronavirus, the Hong Kong Free Press reported. The police said they were extending current public health restrictions on gatherings to the event.
It is reportedly the first time in 30 years that the vigil will not take place in Hong Kong, which commemorates the killing of hundreds pro-democracy protesters by the Chinese military in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, on June 3-4 in 1989.
The “special administrative regions” of Hong Kong and Macau are the only places in China where the events have been publicly commemorated. Vigils for the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen last year were censored in the Chinese mainland. The annual vigil in the city’s Victoria Park draws large crowds every year. In 2019, organizers estimated participation at 180,000, though police announced a crowd size of only 40,000.
As a “special administrative region” of China, Hong Kong has its own legislature and economic system as part of the “one country, two systems” agreement when the United Kingdom transferred control of the territory to China in 1997.
While tensions with the Chinese mainland have existed since the handover, in recent years pro-democracy advocates have voiced increasing concerns that the city’s autonomy is in jeopardy.
Last summer, Hong Kong’s legislature introduced a controversial bill that would allow for extradition of alleged criminals to the Chinese mainland; the bill was pulled after months of large-scale pro-democracy protests. Mass demonstrations and street protests continued throughout the second half of 2019, with some Catholic students taking a role in the protests to push for autonomy and religious freedom.
Last month, China moved to impose new security and anti sedition measures on Hong Kong, prompting international observers to declare that the region is no longer autonomous.
After efforts to pass the law on the island stalled, on May 21 the mainland government announced a plan bypass Hong Kong’s legislature, criminalizing acts that are interpreted to be a subversion of state authority, foreign interference, or secessionist. On May 28, the national legislature passed a resolution to allow for the security laws to be imposed on Hong Kong. The vote carried by a margin of 2,878 to 1, with the single delegate from Hong Kong opposing the measure.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, told CNA on May 27 that “We have nothing good to hope for. Hong Kong is simply completely under [China's] control.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated on May 27 that “[n]o reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground.” A May 28 joint statement of the U.S., Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom expressed “deep concern” over the security law, saying it would “dramatically erode Hong Kong’s autonomy.”
Congressman Chris Smith, R-NJ, who authored the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act which passed the U.S. House last year, said that Beijing’s actions are linked to its systematic repression of human rights throughout the whole country.
“It would be myopic for the world not to recognize Xi Jinping’s assault on Hong Kong including the new draconian national security legislation as part of the Chinese communist government’s exponential increase of abuse that includes genocide against Muslim Uyghurs, the massive crackdown on religious freedom, the pervasive use of torture against prisoners of conscience, coercive population control including forced abortion and COVID-19 lies that launched a pandemic,” Smith said.
“The United States—even if we have to go it alone—must impose sanctions.” he said.
On May 30, President Trump announced that the U.S. would revoke its policies conferring special treatment on Hong Kong and revise the State Department’s travel advisory to the region.
The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong has been led temporarily by retired Cardinal John Tong Hon since January of 2019. Cardinal Zen told CNA his concern that the next bishop of Hong Kong would have Beijing’s approval.
“And you can just imagine, in all these years, with all the persecution increasing in China, with all the cruelties, the brutalities of the police on our young people— no word from the Vatican. No word. Not one word,” Cardinal Zen said.