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Hong Kong businesses mark Tiananmen anniversary in face of pressures

Hong Kong businesses mark Tiananmen anniversary in face of pressures
Victoria Park, the traditional venue for a vigil commemorating the 1989 Beijing Tiananmen Square crackdown, is empty in Hong Kong, China, 4 June 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE/JEROME FAVRE)

Some Hong Kong shopkeepers are quietly commemorating the 34th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown despite the spectre of a China-imposed national security law and pressure to stay silent on the episode that is censored in mainland China.

Hong Kong used to play a leading global role in commemorating the 1989 crackdown by Chinese troops in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, in what was long seen as a symbol of the city’s relative openness compared to mainland China.

Since Hong Kong’s own major pro-democracy movement in 2019, however, China imposed a national security law and the latitude to commemorate June 4 has shrunk. Beijing says the law was necessary to restore stability after the demonstrations.

No public Tiananmen vigils have been held since 2020, while several sculptures on university campuses have been removed, and books on the events taken down from public libraries.

The alliance that once organised the vigil has been disbanded following the arrests of several of their leaders in 2021.

This year, no local groups have applied to hold a public June 4 event, and at least four activists contacted by Reuters said they had been questioned by police about their plans.

Police did not immmediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Hong Kong’s top security official on Monday warned people not to violate national security laws on “special occasions” when asked about the matter.

Some like Debby Chan, however, the owner of a grocery shop, said she would continue to give away “June 4” candles to her customers despite visit to her shop by police officers over the past week.

“The commemoration of June 4th cannot be broken. It’s a symbol of Hong Kong’s civil society,” Chan told Reuters.

Sum Wan-wah, the owner of a small, independent bookshop, said he still sells books such as “35th of May” by Hong Kong playwright Candace Chong, on an elderly couple contending with the killing of their son in the square.

“A lot of the books related to June 4 are no longer being published or are out of stock,” said Sum, who set up a display of Tiananmen-related books and old newspaper clippings in a corner of his “Have a Nice Stay” bookshop.

“All this makes us try to spend time to preserve books that have disappeared from the public domain.”

Another bookshop owner, Leticia Wong, who also displays Tiananmen-related books and sell the script, said she had been visited many times by government departments over the past week.

“No one said the books we sell are illegal, so I assume they’re legal,” Wong, who runs the Hunter Bookstore.

The Hong Kong government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Derek Chu, who runs the “AsOne” online retail business, said he tried to organise a film screening on June 4 at a local cinema, but it was cancelled by the cinema.

Chu pledged to hand out candles instead.

“I won’t give in to fear,” he told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Justin Fung; Editing by James Pomfret and Angus MacSwan)

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