The march, which has been held every year since the 1989 campaign against pro-democracy protesters in China, has been banned due to concerns about the Coruna virus, a move seen by many as a politician in a city where infections drop to a few a month.
However, early on Thursday evening, hundreds and thousands of people defied, in addition to banners and fences around Victoria Park, to occupy two large soccer fields where the rally had been traditionally held. While the numbers appeared in previous years, the well-organized memorial was somewhat chaotic relieved, but was by no means neglected, a key sign of Beijing’s challenge.
Li Chokyan, a former organizer and legislator, led the crowd in chants of “ending the one-party rule” and “democracy for China!”
Others chanted slogans from last year’s anti-government protests, including “the struggle for freedom, standing with Hong Kong”, and the last abstention, “Hong Kong independence, the only way out.”
These slogans may be illegal in the near future, as Beijing moves to enforce a strict national security law that prohibits strife, separation and separatism. Similar laws were used to suppress dissidents and pro-democracy activists in China.
This imminent law is being drafted in Beijing and will automatically be enforced in Hong Kong via a rare-used constitutional backdoor, bypassing the city’s legislature. The law commented on the Tiananmen Memorial this year even before the event was officially banned, as opposition and pro-government figures expected similar marches to be illegal in the future.
Hong Kong has long been the only place on Chinese soil where the June 4 campaign is celebrated. This fact was a test of the types of city autonomy from China, which have shrunk considerably in recent years, culminating in the National Security Law, which Beijing said was necessary to prevent the kind of violent unrest in the past year.
This turmoil has resumed with the exit of Hong Kong from the Corona virus crisis and the easing of social separation regulations. But the police have responded to previous protests in massive numbers and have used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse several gatherings in recent weeks.
On Thursday there was a full reversal of tactics, as the police remained largely out of sight as several thousand people ignored the fences and signs of illegally gathering at Victoria Park. It was a stark, perhaps intentional contradiction to the protests in the United States, in which Hong Kong leader Carey Lam on Tuesday pointed to the accusation of its critics in Washington of “double standards.”
The crowds began to disperse shortly after 8 pm. Local time, after lit candles and a moment of silence to remember the hundreds, perhaps thousands, who were killed in the Tiananmen expedition.
At its peak, the crowd spanned two football fields, and while there were far more gaps than in previous years, it was a huge show of challenge in a city that seemed somewhat shocking in recent weeks due to national security news law.
The next major test, for both the pro-democracy movement and the authorities, will come early next week, which marks the main anniversary of the protest movement last year.
About a million people marched against the extradition bill with China on June 9, 2019, while after three days, protesters surrounded the city’s legislature and clashed with police to prevent passage of the law. It was eventually withdrawn in September 2019, when the anti-government movement grew significantly, as its goals expanded beyond one bill.