By Jessie Pang and Ben Blanchard
HONG KONG/TAIPEI (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Hong Kong police said they arrested 23 people on Sunday for “violating the peace” and arrested a 53-year-old woman for “obstructing police officers” as authorities stepped up their security measures for the 34th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Restrictions in Hong Kong have strangled what were once the biggest vigils marking the anniversary of Chinese troops’ bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, leaving cities like Taipei, London, New York and Berlin to keep the memory of June 4th.
Near Victoria Park, the former site of the annual vigils, hundreds of police conducted stop-and-search operations and deployed armored vehicles and police vans.
RockedBuzz via Reuters witnesses saw more than a dozen people taken away, including activist Alexandra Wong, 67, carrying a bouquet of flowers, a man holding a copy of “May 35”, a work drama about the crackdown on Tiananmen, and an elderly man standing alone on a street corner with a candle.
“The regime wants you to forget, but you can’t forget… (China) wants to whitewash the whole story,” said Chris To, 51, who visited the park in a black T-shirt and was raided by police .
“We have to use our bodies and word of mouth to tell others what happened.”
Police on Monday said officers took away 11 men and 12 women aged between 20 and 74 suspected of “violating the peace at the scene”.
Hong Kong activists say the police action is part of a broader campaign by China to crack down on dissent in the city that was promised continued freedoms for 50 years under the “one country, two systems” model when Britain he returned it in 1997.
Security is significantly tighter across Hong Kong this year, with up to 6,000 police deployed, including riot and counter-terrorism officers, according to local media.
Senior officials have warned people to abide by the law, but have refused to clarify whether such commemoration activities are illegal under a national security law China imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 after sometimes violent mass protests in favor of the democracy.
In a statement, police said some were arrested for seditious intent and for “violating the public peace”.
The United Nations said on Monday it was “alarmed” by the detentions in Hong Kong.
In Beijing, Tiananmen Square was packed with tourists snapping photos under the watchful eyes of police and other personnel, but with no obvious sign of increased security.
A group of relatives called the Tiananmen Mothers said the anguish was never over.
“Even though it has been 34 years, for us, the family members of those who were killed, the pain of losing our loved ones on that night has haunted us to this day,” the group said in a statement released by the Watchdog. New York Human Rights in China.
Despite Hong Kong’s warnings, some people, including bookshop owners, have quietly celebrated June 4th.
Chow Hang-tung, an activist from imprisoned Hong Kong, one of the leaders of a group called The Alliance, which organized the June 4 vigils, said on Facebook that she would hold a 34-hour hunger strike.
In mainland China, any mention of the Tiananmen Square crackdown — where troops opened fire on pro-democracy protesters, killing hundreds if not thousands, according to rights groups — is taboo and the topic is heavily censored.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning, when asked about the government’s response to events around the world to mark the anniversary, said in Beijing on Friday that the government had already come to a “clear conclusion about the political turmoil at the end of the ’80”.
In democratically ruled Taiwan, the last remaining part of the Chinese-speaking world where the anniversary can be celebrated freely, hundreds attended a memorial in Taipei’s Freedom Square where a “Pillar of Shame” statue was displayed.
Peggy Kwan, 57, a performer at the event, expressed sadness at the stifling of commemorations in Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong is going backwards,” he said.
China claims Taiwan as its own and has not given up on the use of force to ensure eventual unification. Taiwan Vice President William Lai, presidential candidate of the Democratic Progressive Party in next January’s elections, wrote on his Facebook page that the memory of what happened in Beijing in 1989 must be preserved.
“The June 4 commemoration event continued to be held in Taipei, which shows that democracy and authoritarianism are the biggest differences between Taiwan and China,” he said.
In Sydney, one of more than 30 venues in North America, Europe and Asia hosting commemorative events, scores of protesters gathered at City Hall, chanting “Free Hong Kong” as they held up placards and yellow umbrellas, symbolic of pro-democracy protests since 2014.
(Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Joyce Zhou and Farah Master in Hong Kong; Angie Teo in Taipei; James Redmayne in Sydney; Screenplay by James Pomfret; Editing by Nick Macfie, Stephen Coates and Edmund Klamann)