Hong Kong police on Friday arrested activist Chow Hang Tung, the organiser of an annual candlelight vigil remembering the victims of China’s deadly 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy voices.
Her arrest came early in the morning, as thousands of police officials were on standby after the government banned the annual vigil citing coronavirus restrictions.
Chow, who was among the few activists to have evaded arrest, had turned into a key figure following the detention of her colleagues at Hong Kong Alliance, a group that has been fighting for democracy for more than 30 years. The chairman of the alliance, Lee Cheuk Yan, was arrested in August 2019 for his involvement in a pro-democracy march.
Also a barrister, Chow had said in an earlier interview with BBC News that she was expecting to be imprisoned.
“I am prepared to be arrested. This is how Hong Kong is now,” she said. “If you fight for democracy under an authoritarian regime, being arrested is unavoidable. Let it come. I am willing to pay the price for fighting for democracy.”
The anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre was for years commemorated in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, where tens of thousands gathered to honour those who died when China’s troops, armed with assault rifles and tanks, fired at the student-led demonstrators, killing hundreds if not thousands.
“She only wanted to go to Victoria Park, light a candle and commemorate,” Chiu Yan Loy, executive member of the Hong Kong Alliance, told Reuters, adding he believed Chow’s arrest was aimed at striking fear into those planning to attend the vigil.
Hong Kong and Macau are the only places in China’s territory where people can commemorate the deadly crackdown by Beijing 32 years ago. But in recent years, efforts to quash observations of the anniversary have turned to Hong Kong too.
Starting this week, the authorities closed the June 4 Museum, with police warning residents against attending any vigils. Nighttime events are also banned for the second year in a row, citing coronavirus restrictions. According to the South China Morning Post, 7,000 officers were deployed in the city to prevent unauthorised protests, with attendance at an unapproved event risking a jail term of up to five years.
The crackdown on the Tiananmen anniversary comes amid the backdrop of sweeping changes, including a new national security law, aimed at stifling dissent and pro-democracy movements in the city . So far, around 100 people have been arrested since the enactment of the law.
A night before her arrest, Chow had called on residents to observe the event privately by lighting candles wherever they are.
“Turn on the lights wherever you are - whether on your phone, candles or electronic candles,” she had posted on Facebook.
Additional reporting by agencies