Hundreds of people have gathered in Taipei to commemorate China’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square 33 years ago.
A heavy security presence inn Hong Kong prevent any sign of protest in the territory.
Saturday is the anniversary of Chinese troops opening fire to end student-led unrest in and around the square in central Beijing. China has never provided a full death toll from the events of 4 June 1989, but rights groups and witnesses say the figure could run into thousands.
China bans any public commemoration of the event on the mainland, making Taiwan the only part of the Chinese-speaking world where it can be remembered openly.
“It’s a symbol of how democracy is precious and fragile at the same time, and how people who care about democracy need to stand up for it or else authoritarians everywhere will think people don’t care,” said the author Jeremy Chiang, 27, who attend the event in Taipei’s Liberty Square.
Activists assembled a new version of the Pillar of Shame, a statue commemorating Tiananmen protesters that a leading Hong Kong university removed from its campus, where it had stood for more than two decades, in December.
Shouts in support of Hong Kong rang out after the statue was erected.
Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, said this week that any events to commemorate those killed in the 1989 crackdown would be subject to national security laws.
In Victoria Park, where people had come together for an annual vigil before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, authorities blocked off main parts of the venue and warned residents against illegal gatherings.
Hundreds of police, some with sniffer dogs, patrolled the park area and conducted stop-and-search checks. As night fell, floodlights lit up an empty expanse of football pitches.
The last time the vigil was held in Hong Kong, in 2019, more than 180,000 people attended, according to organiser estimates, filling six football fields.
“Everyone is remaining silent because they are terrified of getting arrested,” Hong Kong resident Victor, 57, who asked to be identified only by his first name, said inside the park.
China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in June 2020 that punishes acts of subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with sentences of up to life imprisonment. Beijing said the law was necessary to restore stability after anti-government protests in 2019.
Since the legislation was introduced, the Hong Kong authorities have targeted people and organisations affiliated with 4 June and events to mark it.
The annual vigil has been banned since 2020 under Covid restrictions which some democracy campaigners accuse the authorities of using to suppress activism. Officials reject the claim.
Police blocked off the park last year to prevent people gathering to commemorate the anniversary and arrested the planned vigil’s organiser.
“To remember is to resist,” the prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Teng Biao said. “If no one remembers, the suffering of the people will never stop and the perpetrators will continue their crimes with impunity.”
Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, decried the “collective memory of 4 June being systematically erased in Hong Kong”.
“But we believe that such brute force cannot erase people’s memories,” she posted on her Facebook and Instagram pages.
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, called the Tiananmen crackdown “a brutal assault”. “The efforts of these brave individuals will not be forgotten,” he said in a statement.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian reiterated Beijing’s line at a routine news conference on Thursday. “The Chinese government has long ago come to a clear conclusion about the political incident that happened in late 1980s,” he said.