In Hong Kong, numerous people were searched and taken away on the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre because they wanted to commemorate the bloodbath in Beijing 33 years ago, despite the ban on public vigils. The communist government wants to erase the massacre from collective memory.

With a large deployment, the police in Hong Kong stopped any public commemoration of the Tiananmen massacre on Saturday. Scores of people were stopped and searched. Several people were arrested because they wanted to commemorate the bloodbath in Beijing 33 years ago, despite the ban on public vigils.

On June 4, 1989, the Chinese army crushed student protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. After weeks of peaceful protests demanding political change and measures against state corruption, soldiers and tanks used violence against the demonstrators. It is still unclear how many people were killed. Amnesty International speaks of several hundred to several thousand victims.

The communist leadership in Beijing is making every effort to erase the massacre from collective memory. There is no information in history books, and references to it are being deleted from the Chinese Internet and online platforms. Discussion of what happened is practically forbidden.

For decades, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region – apart from Macau – was the only place in China where a commemoration of the dead of Tiananmen was still tolerated. Until two years ago, tens of thousands of people traditionally commemorated the dead of the massacre with a vigil in Victoria Park.

AFP journalists saw at least six people being taken away by police on Saturday. Among them was democracy activist Yu Wai Pan of the League of Social Democrats (LSD) party, who has been targeted by the authorities. He had performed with two other LSD members with masks over their mouths that had crosses on them. Hong Kong authorities warned on Friday that anyone attending an “unauthorized assembly” could face up to five years in prison. Large parts of Victoria Park have been closed.

There was a massive police presence around the park on Saturday, many people were stopped and searched by officers. Among other things, people who wore black clothing were stopped and searched. A man was stopped for having a toy tank with him.

Dozens of people scattered around Victoria Park turned on their smartphone flashlights – prompted by police bullhorns to turn them off. Officials had also previously prohibited the lighting of LED candles. A woman told AFP that she had lit a candle at home and placed it on her windowsill with a replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue – originally located in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

“For me and many Hong Kongers of my generation, June 4th was the moment of political awakening,” said the 49-year-old public relations woman, who has volunteered at vigils in the past. A young woman told AFP on Saturday: “We can’t attract a lot of attention,” but there are still small gestures “with which we can show others that they are not alone.”

China introduced a so-called National Security Law in July 2020 in response to months of mass protests in Hong Kong against Beijing’s growing influence. It allows authorities in the SAR to crack down on any activity they deem to threaten China’s national security. The Hong Kong Alliance’s Tiananmen commemoration organizers have been classified as “foreign agents.”

The US has criticized China for banning memorial services in Hong Kong. “Today, the struggle for democracy and freedom continues to reverberate in Hong Kong, where the annual Tiananmen Massacre commemoration vigil has been banned by the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong authorities to erase memories of the day,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken . “We will not forget June 4th – for the Chinese people and for everyone who continues to fight against injustice and for freedom,” affirmed Blinken.