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Hong Kongers flout ban on Tiananmen vigil as MPs vote on Chinese anthem law

A pro-democracy demonstrator wearing a face mask waves the British colonial Hong Kong flag as another one holds a sign during a protest against new national security legislation in Hong Kong, China June 1, 2020.
A pro-democracy demonstrator wearing a face mask waves the British colonial Hong Kong flag as another one holds a sign during a protest against new national security legislation in Hong Kong, China June 1, 2020. REUTERS - TYRONE SIU

Thousands of Hong Kongers lit candles on Thursday evening to mark the anniversary of Beijing's Tiananmen crackdown. Pro-democracy MPs also staged a protest against the new National Anthem law which makes it a crime to disrespect the hymn.

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Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong defied a ban against gathering at a park to commemorate Thursday's 31st anniversary of China's deadly Tiananmen crackdown.

Thanks to its special status, Hong Kong has been the only place in China that allowed yearly vigils to remember those killed when the People’s Liberation Army crushed peaceful protests in and around Bejing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.

This year's vigil was banned however, with the authorities citing coronavirus restrictions on group gatherings.

protesters take part in a candlelight vigil to mark the 31st anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy protests at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, after police rejects a mass annual vigil on public health grounds, at Victoria Park, in Hong Kong, China June 4, 2020.
protesters take part in a candlelight vigil to mark the 31st anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy protests at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, after police rejects a mass annual vigil on public health grounds, at Victoria Park, in Hong Kong, China June 4, 2020. REUTERS - TYRONE SIU

But hundreds of people, including some prominent democracy leaders broke through barriers at Victoria Park, where the vigil is held each year, just as night fell.

"I've come here for the vigil for 30 years in memory of the victims of the June 4 crackdown, but this year it is more significant to me," a 74-year-old man who gave his as Yip told AFP inside the park.

Police maintained a presence near the park but did not move to disperse the protest.

National anthem bill

The gathering took place just hours after pro-Beijing lawmakers in Hong Kong's Legislative Council (Legco) passed a bill that would punish insulting the Chinese national anthem with up to three years in prison and a maximum penalty of HK$50,000 (5,713 Euro)

41 Legco members supported the bill, 1 voted against and 23 “Pan Democratic” legislators abstained but instead shouted slogans denouncing the law.

Pro-democracy MPs protest during the debate on the law prohibiting insults to the Chinese national anthem on June 4, 2020 at the Hong Kong Legislative Council
Pro-democracy MPs protest during the debate on the law prohibiting insults to the Chinese national anthem on June 4, 2020 at the Hong Kong Legislative Council AFP

Beijing has been infuriated by Hong Kongers -- especially football fans -- booing the national anthem to signal dissatisfaction with Chinese rule.

Beijing hails the law as a “victory for the pro-establishment group” but the pro-democracy opposition say the bill is a fresh attempt to criminalise dissent and fights have broken out between rival lawmakers over the legislation.

Thursday's vote was delayed after a lawmaker threw a jar of foul-smelling fertiliser in the legislative chamber to protest China's refusal to acknowledge the Tiananmen massacre.

After the debate was moved to a different room, the bill was swiftly passed.

UK PM lends a hand

Thursday’s National Anthem law comes a week after China’s National People’s Congress adopted controversial national security regulations that lead to massive protests  – the first since the Covid-19 crisis had shut down most of Hong Kong.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson has offered millions of Hong Kongers visas
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson has offered millions of Hong Kongers visas AFP

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a column, jointly published by the Times of London and Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post that if China proceeds to justify the "fears" of Hong Kongers, "then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away; instead we will honour our obligations and provide an alternative."

About 350,000 people in Hong Kong currently hold British National Overseas (BNO) passports, which allow visa-free access to Britain for up to six months (although the pro-Beijing Global Times is quick to point out that only 170,000 are still valid “as of 2019”.)

According to Johnson, another 2.5 million people “would be eligible to apply for one.”

Three million visas – three million signatures

He said that Britain could allow BNO holders to come for a renewable period of 12 months "and be given further immigration rights, including the right to work, which could place them on a route to citizenship".

China’s Foreign Ministry, quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency shot back saying that it “strongly opposes wanton remarks of British politicians” without mentioning Johnson by name.

Xinhua quoted a ministry spokesperson as saying that “national security laws for Hong Kong have received widespread support of Hong Kong residents from all walks of life,” claiming support was expressed by “nearly 3 million signatures collected in eight days,” – ironically the same amount of people for whom Johnson suggests the UK could provide visas.

“The allegations that the legislation is forced upon Hong Kong and the high degree of autonomy will be damaged are nothing but slander and distortion,” according to the spokesperson.

 

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