Hong Kong marks Tiananmen crackdown, as China ignores event

People hold candles during a vigil in Hong Kong, on June 4, 2018, to mark the 29th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing.
People hold candles during a vigil in Hong Kong, on June 4, 2018, to mark the 29th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (NYTIMES) - Tens of thousands of pro-democracy activists turned out in Hong Kong on Monday (June 4) to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing, observing an event that goes largely unmentioned in mainland China.

This year's vigil focused on freeing "dissidents imprisoned or under home arrest" in addition to pushing for greater democracy in mainland China.

The protesters marking the Tiananmen anniversary in Hong Kong have seen their numbers dwindle in the years since the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement gripped Hong Kong in 2014.

Organisers said as many as 180,000 people showed up to that year's June 4 vigil - police estimated the number to be roughly half that - but last year they estimated 110,000 people attended.

Heavy rains Monday also limited this year's turnout at the event, held annually in the semiautonomous territory.

One reason for the declining attendance is that many student organizations are unwilling to join the vigil, arguing that the event should focus on democracy in Hong Kong, rather than mainland China.

But not all students agree.

"They are letting the events that happened in Tiananmen fade," said Wong Nga Man, a student at Hong Kong Baptist University. "I want to show that there are still young people like myself who believe in the values of the vigil, for the Tiananmen crackdown and democracy."

Organisers of this year's event have seized on the death of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, prominently displaying a bust of him in the city's Times Square and bringing it to Monday night's vigil. Democracy activists have been calling for the release of his widow, Liu Xia, who is under house arrest.

At a second, smaller and unsanctioned vigil, one speaker called for the international community to investigate the deaths in Tiananmen.

Michael Mo Kwan Tai, the speaker, called for "the International Criminal Court to investigate suspicions of crimes against humanity."

The organiser of the larger main vigil, Chow Hang Tung, said before the event that she planned to call for an "end to one-party dictatorship." Organisers said more than 100,000 people were in attendance despite the rain. Many of the participants held candles during the somber ceremony.

The vigil in Hong Kong is a stark departure from the situation in China, where protests are banned and mentions of the Tiananmen crackdown, in which hundreds if not thousands of protesters died, are scrubbed from social media.

Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, called attention to the anniversary Sunday, releasing a statement urging "the Chinese government to make a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing" and "to release those who have been jailed for striving to keep the memory of Tiananmen Square alive."