Hong Kong (CNN)When protests broke call at Beijing and other cities across China in early 1989, many in Hong Kong were exhilarated.
"It was a time of hope," said Lee Cheuk-yan, a veteran activist and former Hong Kong lawmaker. At that point , the town was eight years out from being handed over from British to Chinese control, and there was a way that the young protesters across the border might be changing China for the higher .
"For many Hong Kongers, we felt that 1997 was really hanging over our heads. But children in China were demanding democracy, and that we thought if they create it, it means Hong Kong won't need to live under an authoritarian regime."
That hope became despair, however, because the People's Liberation Army crushed the protests on June 4. No official price has ever been released, but rights groups estimate hundreds, if not thousands were killed. The Tiananmen protests and therefore the crackdown are wiped from the history books in China, censored and controlled, organizers exiled or arrested, and therefore the relatives of these who died kept under tight surveillance.
Tiananmen Square incident | Summary, Details
Every year since then, Lee has helped organize a candlelit rally in Hong Kong to mark the anniversary, the sole mass memorial persisted Chinese soil and a key emblem of the semi-autonomous city's political freedoms. per annum , that is, until this year.
Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements, is seen standing at the June 4 Museum, dedicated to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on May 20, 2020 in Hong Kong .
On Monday, police refused permission for this year's rally, citing ongoing restrictions on mass gatherings associated with the coronavirus pandemic. for several within the democratic opposition, the justification rings hollow: organizers had said they might work with the authorities to make sure a secure and socially-distanced rally, and meanwhile the city's shopping districts, subway, and public parks are open for weeks with little issue.
Speaking to reporters after the ban was announced, Lee said the police were "suppressing our vigil under the pretense of executing the gathering ban."
The decision by police carries extra weight as many already feared in the week could be the last opportunity to freely mark the anniversary. Last month, China announced that it might impose a national security law on Hong Kong , in response to widespread and sometimes violent anti-government unrest last year.
Chinese security services
The law criminalizes secession, sedition and subversion. It also permits Chinese security services to work in Hong Kong for the primary time -- resulting in fears among many within the city that members of the PLA might be deployed onto the streets should protests resume.
Nor is it the sole controversial law on the horizon. On Thursday, Hong Kong lawmakers finally passed -- after months of dialogue and filibustering -- a bill that criminalizes insulting China's anthem , "March of the Volunteers."
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, the group co-founded by Lee which has organized the Tiananmen vigil per annum since 1990, has warned that it might be banned under the new national security law, pointing to its previous support of activists convicted under similar national security laws in China and a longstanding opposition to "one party dictatorship."
There is good reason to believe the vigil could also be banned in future. Last month, CY Leung, the city's former chief executive and high-ranking member of a Chinese government advisory body, predicted even as much, while a commemoration in neighboring Macao -- which already has an national security law on the books -- has also been blocked by authorities.
On Thursday, police reiterated that that they had refused permission for 2 gatherings on June 4, one on Hong Kong Island and another in Kowloon, and warned members of the general public "to occupy home and avoid travelling to crowded places or participating in prohibited gatherings."
According to the South China Morning Post, some 3,000 riot cops are going to be deployed across the town Thursday, whilst organizers of the Tiananmen rally urged police to remain away, saying without them present "there are going to be no clashes."
Tiananmen had an indelible effect on Hong Kong's politics. Rallies were held in solidarity with the pro-democracy demonstrators before the massacre, and lots of activists within the city traveled north to supply assistance and support.
After the crackdown, "Operation Yellow Bird" helped smuggle Beijing protest organizers et al. in danger of arrest to the town , still then a British territory. Some 500 people were extracted from China, consistent with the Hong Kong Alliance, including student protest leaders like Wu'er Kaixi, who famously debated Chinese Premier Li Peng at the peak of the demonstrations.
In the years after the crackdown, pressure grew on British to try to to more to guard Hong Kong under imminent Chinese rule, and in 1994 then Governor Chris Patten made elections to the city's parliament fully democratic for the primary time -- a move that wasn't approved by London and met with outrage in Beijing.
The legislature elected the subsequent year was the primary and only time the parliament has had a pro-democratic majority. it had been disbanded and replaced by a Beijing-appointed body as soon as Chinese control over the town took force.
In the eight years after Tiananmen, many thousands of Hong Kongers moved overseas, though many returned soon after handover after a feared crackdown didn't pan out and therefore the city enjoyed an economic boom under its new rulers. Most of these returnees came with foreign passports in their back pocket, however, able to flee again if things took a negative turn.
A renewed exodus could also be on the horizon because of the new national security law. Following China's announcement, the united kingdom moved to expand some rights for holders of British National (Overseas) passports, of which there are some 300,000 in Hong Kong and up to three million citizens born within the city before 1997 eligible to use . London said that if the law goes ahead, BNO holders are going to be granted 12-month stay within the UK, up from 6-months, giving them a possible path to British citizenship.
Tens of thousands filled Victoria Park on Tuesday, ignoring sweltering heat and threatening clouds overhead. Most wore black and most held candles overhead. the gang chanted: "Demand accountability for the massacre! End one-party dictatorship! Build a democratic China!"
What happens next?
In 20 years of Chinese rule, the Tiananmen memorial was always something that set Hong Kong apart, a litmus test for whether the city's freedoms and autonomy were still protected.
It has also served as an incubator of sorts for political talent, often being among the primary demonstrations that a lot of Hong Kongers attend. Many activists, including former Umbrella Movement leaders Nathan Law and Joshua Wong, have spoken of the effect of the June 4 memorial in their own political awakening.
Last year, the city's leader, Carrie Lam, pointed to the annual rally as proof that "Hong Kong may be a very free society."
"If there are public gatherings to precise their views and feelings on a specific historic incident, we fully respect those views," she said.
Asked in the week about whether the gathering would be banned under the new national security law, Lam said "we do not have the drafted law immediately . we will handle this later."
Hong Kong officials have insisted that concerns over the legislation are overblown, which the new offenses of sedition, subversion and secession will only apply a small few people, whilst they admit they too are largely within the dark over Beijing's plans.
In a statement on the law last week, the Hong Kong Alliance warned that it had been "like a knife to the neck of all Hong Kong people."
"Even if it only cuts a couple of , it threatens the liberty of all 7 million," the group said. "It is that the implementing of rule by fear in Hong Kong ."
For now, they're still defying that fear, whilst the coronavirus restrictions have foiled plans for a mass rally. Smaller gatherings are going to be held across the town , and therefore the Alliance has called on all residents to light candles at 8 p.m., holding them outside their windows to recreate the ocean of sunshine that has become a standard image of the annual vigil at Victoria Park.
"Will Hong Kongers be ready to hold the vigil next year? A year is an eternity in politics, and predictions are hazardous," wrote China scholar Jerome Cohen in the week . "Yet, unless there's an unexpected change in leadership in Beijing, it surely seems likely, especially in light of the forthcoming (national security law), that Hong Kong might follow Macao in succumbing to the amnesia that has long been forced upon the mainland."
Hong Kong marks Tiananmen massacre for what many fear are going to be the last time
4/ 5Oleh Salim Salem