Hong Kong’s legislature on Thursday began voting on a controversial bill criminalising ‘disrespect’ of China’s national anthem, amid concern over the mainland’s increasing influence on the semi-autonomous territory and a ban for the first time in three decades on its annual memorial for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
The bill means anyone found guilty of disrespecting the anthem risks a hefty fine and as many as three years in jail.
The assembly was sitting as it emerged some 3,000 riot police – 2,000 of them on Hong Kong Island where government offices are located – would be deployed after the annual Tiananmen Square massacre was banned because of coronavirus concerns. Two water cannon were also stationed near the government complex and the Chinese liaison office, according to local media.
Vigil organisers have urged people to light candles in groups of no more than eight people to remain within the coronavirus rules on gatherings.
The bill was passed amid heightened tensions in Hong Kong after almost a year of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests and as China moved last month to impose new national security legislation on the territory, which is supposed to be guaranteed freedoms unknown on the mainland until at least 2047.
The candlelight vigil has traditionally drawn tens of thousands of people to the city’s Victoria Park.
“The Hong Kong vigil has been a beacon of light for those of us struggling in darkness to keep the history and memory (of Tiananmen) alive,” Rowena He, an associate professor in history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and author of ‘Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China’ told Al Jazeera. “It shows the world and the regime that there’s something that cannot be crushed with tanks and guns and jail, and that’s the human spirit.”
Calls online have urged people to light candles in specific places throughout the evening and then “where you are” at 8:00pm local time (12:00 GMT), followed by a minute of silence. Some have said they will go to Victoria Parks in smaller groups.
“Police will observe and enforce the law as the situation requires,” the South China Morning Post quoted an unnamed high-ranking officer as saying.
Some people gathered to light candles on Wednesday night, while others held aloft neon lights depicting the date of the crackdown in roman numerals.
Police have said a mass gathering on June 4 would pose a threat to public health at a time when the city has reported its first locally-transmitted coronavirus cases in weeks. Hong Kong has banned gatherings of more than eight people, a public health measure authorities insist has no political motivation.
Malissa Chan, a 26-year-old who works in the property sector, told Reuters she would go to the park anyway.
“When authorities want to suppress us, there are more reasons to speak up,” she said.
Social distancing measures allow for religious gatherings under certain conditions, so some people plan to commemorate the Tiananmen crackdown in churches and temples. Other residents are also expected to lay flowers along a waterfront promenade, while some artists plan to stage short street theatre plays.
Today we commemorate the protesters who fought for democracy in Tiananmen Square, scores of whom were violently repressed by the CCP. For the first time, Hong Kong’s June Fourth vigil has been banned by the government. Defiantly, we commit to remembrance as a form of resistance. https://t.co/bd7WVdjhdx
— Lausan 流傘 (@lausanhk) June 4, 2020
China has never provided a full accounting of the 1989 violence, but rights groups and witnesses say thousands of people died when the military cleared the square of pro-democracy protesters who had been camped out there for weeks.
The death toll given by officials days after the crackdown was about 300, most of them soldiers, with only 23 students confirmed killed.
The event has been all but erased from history in mainland China, with Hong Kong’s vigil the most significant commemoration of the massacre anywhere in the world.
The ban means it is the first time since 1990 that it has not taken place.
Al Jazeera and news agencies
News Source : Al Jazeera English