Hong Kong protesters hold banned Tiananmen vigil as anthem law is passed

Protesters defy police ban as legislation prohibits mockery of Chinese anthem

Thousands of people have defied a police ban in Hong Kong to mourn the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre, after the city’s legislature passed a law criminalising the mockery of China’s national anthem.

Many fear this year’s commemoration of the events of 4 June 1989 might be Hong Kong’s last, as China has approved a plan to impose national security laws on the semi-autonomous city that would prevent and punish “acts and activities” that threaten national security.

The police had for the first time in three decades banned the annual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park, citing the coronavirus pandemic. 

Unlike past years, no organised ceremony was allowed on Thursday as police refused to give activists a permit. Police loudhailers repeatedly played a message warning people against participating in unapproved gatherings, although only small groups of police stood guard outside the park and did not stop people from entering.

Mourners young and old held candle lights and chanted slogans. Unlike past years when they mostly called for the vindication of the 1989 movement, many were shouting slogans calling for independence from China, such as “Hong Kong Independence, only way!”, “Hong Kong, build our own nation!” and “Free Hong Kong, democracy now!” Some burst into choruses of the unofficial anthem of the anti-government protests: “Glory to Hong Kong.”

“What happened in Tiananmen showed the true nature of the Communist party,” said Lawrence, a 25-year-old retailer, who said he would not be intimidated by the national security laws. “Instead of being silenced, I’d rather sacrifice myself for freedom. If we have no freedom, it makes no difference whether you’re in jail or not.”

Smaller gatherings were held in various spots across Hong Kong on Thursday night. After the ban on the vigil in Victoria Park, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which has organised the vigil for the past 30 years, asked Hongkongers to hold individual commemorations wherever they were in the city. 

The rallies were largely peaceful, with the exception of the shopping district Mong Kok, where several people were subdued by police after barriers and traffic cones were thrown onto the road.

Earlier in the day, Hong Kong’s legislature passed a law criminalising the mockery of China’s national anthem. 

The law was passed with 41 votes for and one against. Those who were able to vote were largely from the pro-Beijing camp, as pro-democracy lawmakers were taking part in a noisy last-minute protest that meant they could not vote. “A murderous state stinks for ever,” they shouted.

The voting took place hastily late on Thursday afternoon after a pause of four hours. An earlier session was suspended after pro-democracy lawmakers Eddie Chu and Ray Chan tried to cause the bill to be delayed by protesting and throwing pungent liquid on the floor. 

The law prohibits behaviours that “insult” or misuse the Chinese national anthem, including “publicly and intentionally” altering its lyrics or score, and playing or singing it in a “distorted or disrespectful way”.

Offences are punishable with a fine of HK$50,000 (£5,150) and up to three years in jail. It also stipulates that the anthem should be included in school education to teach students “the history and spirit of the national anthem”. 

Critics fear that the vague definitions of terms like “insult” and “derogatory” in the legislation could threaten freedom of expression in Hong Kong. The law coincides with plans by Beijing to force through sweeping national security rules on Hong Kong to stamp out anti-government protests, which started a year ago. The proposed laws would punish “acts and activities” that threaten national security, including secession, subversion and terrorism and foreign interference. 

The anthem, The March of the Volunteers, was written in wartime in the 1930s and calls on people to “arise, ye who refuse to be slaves!”

“The banning of the vigil together with the two new laws would have profound implications on Hong Kong,” said Rowena He, author of Tiananmen Exiles and associate professor of history at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“[But] you cannot easily push people into darkness once they have experienced light. People in Hong Kong have persistently and collectively showed the world that there was something that cannot be crushed by guns, tanks, and prisons, that is the human spirit for truth and justice.”

Guardian reporter in Hong Kong

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Hong Kong police ban Tiananmen memorial vigil, citing Covid-19
Announcement means event will not be held for first time since massacre in 1989

Helen Davidson

01, Jun, 2020 @1:27 PM

Article image
Hong Kong finds new ways to remember Tiananmen Square amid vigil ban
Residents light candles, lay flowers and paint messages as police enforce ban on annual vigil for massacre

Helen Davidson

04, Jun, 2021 @11:54 AM

Article image
Hong Kong police investigate organisers of Tiananmen Square vigil
Longstanding group accused of being ‘agent of foreign forces’ and is asked for information about its membership

Helen Davidson in Taipei

26, Aug, 2021 @7:48 AM

Article image
Hong Kong vigil leader arrested as 7,000 police enforce ban on Tiananmen anniversary protests
Officers have been mobilised to break up the once-traditional events to mark the brutal crackdown against dissent in China 32 years ago

Helen Davidson in Taipei and Vincent Ni

04, Jun, 2021 @10:45 AM

Article image
Hong Kong police raid Tiananmen massacre museum
Crackdown follows arrest of four members of civil society group that ran June 4th Museum

Helen Davidson in Taipei

09, Sep, 2021 @7:29 AM

Article image
Tiananmen Square massacre marked with Hong Kong vigil
More than 100,000 gather for anniversary but many fear for future of commemoration

Helen Davidson in Hong Kong

04, Jun, 2019 @2:56 PM

Article image
Tiananmen anniversary: the marked contrast of Hong Kong and Beijing
Tens of thousands unhindered at candlelit vigil as security, house arrests and censorship stepped up in crackdown on mainland

Tania Branigan in Beijing

04, Jun, 2014 @6:27 PM

Article image
Hong Kong blocks Tiananmen Square vigil with gathering ban
Restrictions were due to end but Hong Kong extends social distancing measures for 14 days

Helen Davidson

19, May, 2020 @8:53 AM

Article image
Hong Kong protesters and Chinese officials hold rival press conferences
Beijing authorities issue strongest warning yet to demonstrators in rare media briefing

Christy Choi in Hong Kong

06, Aug, 2019 @10:48 AM

Article image
‘Atmosphere of fear’: Hong Kong students lament loss of Tiananmen statues
Staff and students say the recent destruction of massacre monuments is a manifestation of a new and uneasy culture on campus

Rhoda Kwan in Taipei

31, Dec, 2021 @1:08 AM