Xin Lin | Radio Free Asia
The organizers of a Hong Kong museum commemorating the 1989 student-led democracy movement in China, and the military crackdown on unarmed civilians that ended weeks of protest on the night of June 3, say it is being forced to close amid growing political pressure.
Located in an 800-square-foot (74-square-meter) office space in Kowloon, the June 4 Memorial Museum has drawn more than 20,000 visitors since it first opened in 2014, marking the 25th anniversary of the massacre, which Beijing has styled a “counterrevolutionary rebellion.”
Around half of its visitors come from mainland China, which has erased references to the bloodshed from official accounts and bans public debate or memorials for victims.
Now, the museum is being forced out of its current premises following a lengthy legal dispute with the building’s landlords, which the organizers believe is politically motivated.
Hong Kong lawmaker and rights lawyer Albert Ho, whose Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China runs the museum, suspects that Beijing may be behind the ongoing complaints against the museum, whose landlords say it is breaching the building’s commercial-use zoning regulations.
“We never expected to run into this much trouble,” Ho told RFA in recent interview. “Our opponents seem to have access to huge resources with which to pursue a legal fight.”
He said the museum will likely close by the end of the year, after running a series of exhibits to mark the 27th anniversary of the military crackdown in the weeks to come.
“They also make trouble for us via the building management, and they have complained to us repeatedly to various government departments,” he said. “Maybe we could pour more time and money into fighting it, but I don’t think that would be effective, and it won’t benefit the museum much.”
Ho said the Alliance plans to seek a new venue for the museum eventually, however.
“This closure is temporary … we intend to keep looking for a more suitable location,” he said.
A sensitive topic
The Alliance, meanwhile, is trying to get the Tiananmen protests and massacre added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
Willy Lam, visiting professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the Beijing Spring of 1989 is a sensitive topic in Hong Kong, although the former British colony is the only Chinese territory to hold mass public memorial events to mark its anniversary.
“Of course, Beijing is going to do everything in its power to prevent the Alliance from registering June 4 in the United Nations’ Memory of the World Register,” Lam said in a recent interview.
“But even if they did [succeed], this wouldn’t amount to a huge amount of political pressure on China,” he said.
The museum’s exhibits include photographs of the protests and massacre, touching mementos saved from the scene, and a two-meter replica of the towering Goddess of Democracy statue that featured in the protests.
Under the terms of the 1997 handover, Hong Kong was promised the continuation of its existing freedoms and separate legal jurisdiction for 50 years under the “one country, two systems” pledge from Beijing.
But there are fears that those freedoms may already be eroding, as Hong Kong officials warned earlier this month of “limits” to free speech after a fledgling political party said it would campaign for independence for the city.
Chinese officials have also warned that Beijing could enact laws governing subversion in Hong Kong, and extend them to cover the city by decree of the country’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC).
And the recent detentions of five Hong Kong booksellers, including one from within Hong Kong’s separate jurisdiction and one from Thailand who planned a gossipy book about Chinese President Xi Jinping, have left many fearing that China’s state security police is no longer shy of pursuing dissent across borders.
Copyright © 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036