Wong Lok-to | Radio Free Asia
More than 100,000 people gathered in Hong Kong on Saturday to mark the 27th anniversary of a military massacre that put a bloody end to the 1989 democracy movement on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, although cracks were beginning to appear in the city’s pro-democracy camp.
Organizers of the event, which was briefly stormed by a handful of pro-independence demonstrators, said around 125,000 filled several soccer pitches in the former British colony’s Victoria Park, in spite of recent disagreements over the political message behind it.
Participants held candles, paid their respects to those who died, and sang songs to call for freedom, democracy and a reappraisal of the student movement, which the ruling Chinese Communist Party has styled a “counterrevolutionary rebellion.”
“We have a dream, it won’t die; let’s remember it,” the crowd sang to the tune of a well-known Taiwanese pop song. “Freedom will flower, however hard it rains.”
Some way through the ceremony, protesters wearing masks and demanding independence for Hong Kong, rushed onto the stage, before being ushered off again by organizers and police officers.
Police also tried to prevent a side-protest of several hundred people from marching to Beijing’s representative office in protest at the crackdown, but protesters temporarily blocked roads. No clashes were reported.
China bans commemorations
The Victoria Park gathering was the only public memorial event of its kind on Chinese soil, and the largest in the world.
Just across the internal immigration border in mainland China, public memorials and discussions of the events of June 1989 are banned, with activists who seek to commemorate the bloodshed often detained or placed under police surveillance.
But the turnout belied deeper divisions in Hong Kong’s pan-democratic camp, with many university students holding a separate event for the first time in nearly three decades.
“Localists” in Hong Kong want the city to focus only on its own affairs, and disagreed with the Alliance’s now traditional call for democracy in China, as part of the memorial event.
Alliance deputy chairman Richard Choi called on Hong Kong people to keep showing up for the memorial ceremony in spite of the disagreements, which included insults hurled at his group by localist activists, one of whom called the organizers “pimps turned whores.”
“Naturally I feel a little bit hurt by some of the opinions that have been expressed, including the more slanderous ones,” Choi said.
“We have kept this going for so many years now, and the fight must continue,” he said.
However, not all of Hong Kong’s university students attended the rival forum run on Saturday the city’s student federation.
“Even if they don’t come and take part in the candlelight vigil, I think we should continue to show our respects on June 4,” an Institute of Education student surnamed Chow told RFA.
“Even so … there is still an atmosphere of respect for those people who gave up their lives on June 4, 1989, even if [the students] are discussing different topics.”
But some feared the students’ breakaway event would damage unity in the city.
“I think we should mourn June 4 together,” a participant who gave only the nickname Jimmy told RFA. “This is about paying our respects to the people who died, but it seems there are now divisions in our ranks regarding this event, which isn’t good.”
Participant Edmond Fong told government broadcaster RTHK that some university student leaders now say June 4 isn’t something they want to commemorate.
“They just believe that China is another country, that this incident happened in another country – not their home,” he said.
“So they just want to focus on what happens in Hong Kong, not China. I’m very disappointed by this.”
The number of those killed when PLA troops cleared central Beijing of mostly unarmed civilian protesters on the night of June 3, 1989 and in the days that followed has never been confirmed.
Bereaved families demand accountability
Victims group the Tiananmen Mothers published a map in 2009 listing more than 250 names garnered from confirmed eyewitness accounts and hospital records of those known to have died in the days after June 3.
The group, whose members were taken under police escort to pay respects at their loved ones’ graves on Saturday, has repeatedly called for those responsible to be punished and for compensation to be paid to the victims’ families.
“Several families went this morning in [police] vehicles,” Zhang Xianling, who lost her 19-year-old son Wang Nan during the crackdown, told RFA.
“There are eight families who lost people who are buried [in Wan’an Cemetery], but three of them couldn’t make it,” she said. “The mood was very sad and heavy; [Tiananmen Mothers] spokeswoman You Weijie led the ceremony.”
“The police laid on civilian cars for us instead of the usual police cars,” Zhang said. “That made it somewhat better, and they treated the relatives very well; there wasn’t a police uniform in sight.”
However, local residents said security was tight on Beijing’s streets on Tiananmen Square itself, and other sites where many died in clashes with the military.
“There are a lot of police cars around Muxidi, particularly the northwest corner, which has been sealed off,” a resident who declined to be named told RFA on Saturday.
“There are armed police and riot police there, and in Fuxingmen, with a lot of police cars in the driveway of the concert hall,” he said.
“There aren’t many people on the Square today, but people are commemorating it on WeChat groups and in other ways. Some people are fasting for the day,” he said.
Tiananmen Mothers spokeswoman You Weijie said the laying of wreaths ceremony had passed off smoothly.
“The Tiananmen Mothers have been calling on the government to pursue those responsible for this massacre for 27 years,” she told RFA. “We want them to publish the truth about June 4, 1989, and we want compensation.”
“Those are our three demands, and we will continue to pursue them,” she said.
Washington on Friday called on Beijing to make public more details of the crackdown.
“The United States government continues to call for a full public accounting of those killed, detained, or missing and for an end to censorship of discussions about the events of June 4, 1989, as well as an end to harassment and detention of those who wish to peacefully commemorate the anniversary,” state department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
“We continue to have serious concerns with ongoing violations of human rights in China, including, in the past year, the detention of hundreds of human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, and civil society leaders, and increased restrictions on media content, expression, association, and religious practice,” he said.
“We urge the Chinese government to respect the universal rights and freedoms of all its citizens,” Toner said.
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