Feedback | Monday, June 24, 2024

Security tight in China and Hong Kong on Tiananmen crackdown anniversary

Security was tight and access restricted to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Tuesday, the 35th anniversary of the June 4 crackdown, while Hong Kong also increased policing as activists in Taiwan and elsewhere prepared to mark the date with vigils.

Chinese tanks rolled into the square before dawn on June 4, 1989, to end weeks of pro-democracy demonstrations by students and workers. Television news images of a lone Chinese man in a white shirt standing in front of a column of tanks spread around the world and became the iconic image of the demonstrations.

Decades after the military crackdown, rights activists say the demonstrators’ original goals including a free press and freedom of speech remain distant, and June 4 is still a taboo topic in China.

The ruling Communist Party has never released a death toll, though rights groups and witnesses say the figure could run into the thousands.

Taiwan’s president Lai Ching-te said in a statement on Tuesday that “the memory of June 4th will not disappear in the torrent of history”.

Lai, who was inaugurated last month as the leader of the democratic island China claims as its own, added that Taiwan would “respond to authoritarianism with freedom.”

Taiwan is the only part of the Chinese-speaking world where June 4 can be remembered openly, with a commemoration event planned in Taipei, the capital. Others are planned in countries such as Britain, Canada and the United States.

In Beijing, an official website for the Tiananmen Tower overlooking the square, posted a notice earlier saying it would be closed for the entire day on June 4.

Time slots for visits to Tiananmen Square also weren’t available for June 4 on its official WeChat mini-app. Chang’an Avenue, the road lining the square, was closed to pedestrians and cyclists on Monday evening, according to an eyewitness.

INCREASED SECURITY

Small groups of “stability maintenance” volunteers – retirees with red armbands – have been keeping watch at neighbourhoods in central Beijing since last week. Guards have also been stationed on pedestrian bridges, a regular practice during politically sensitive periods.

On Chinese social media platforms including WeChat and Douyin, users were unable to change their profile photos, according to online posts and Reuters tests. In the past, some online users have changed their profile names and photos to include symbolic images such as candles around June 4.

“Thirty-five years have passed, and the authorities remain silent. All that can be seen on the internet is ‘A Concise History of the Communist Party of China’, which says that a tragic incident was caused by the student movement in 1989,” wrote the Tiananmen Mothers, a group of over 100 mostly China-based survivors and families of the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown.

“We cannot accept or tolerate such statements that ignore the facts.”

In China-ruled Hong Kong, police officers tightened security around downtown Victoria Park, where large June 4 candlelight vigils had earlier been held annually before tougher new national security laws came into force in recent years.

Performance artist Sanmu Chen was taken away on Monday night by police as he attempted a mime performance near a police van. Chen was later released.

Last Tuesday, Hong Kong police arrested six people for sedition under a new national security law enacted this year, stemming from what media said were online posts linked to June 4. Two more have been arrested since.

“There are still forces that attempt to undermine Hong Kong’s stability and security,” Hong Kong leader John Lee told reporters on Tuesday without mentioning June 4 specifically. He also noted a need to “be on guard all the time against attempts to cause trouble”.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong highlighted the “brutal force” used against student protesters 35 years ago and said her country remained concerned about China’s ongoing restrictions on individual rights.

“We call on China to cease suppression of freedoms of expression, assembly, media and civil society and to release those detained for peacefully expressing their political views,” Wong said in a statement.

(Reuters)

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