HKFP Reports Hong Kong Politics & Protest

Undeterred by legal threat, Hong Kong’s Tiananmen vigil continues tradition of condemning China’s ‘one-party dictatorship’

Chants of “end one-party dictatorship,” for years a regular feature of the Victoria Park vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, rang out again on Monday despite recent warnings from Chinese government officials that the slogan may be illegal.

Tiananmen Massacre vigil Victoria Park 2018

Photo: inmediahk.net.

Event organiser the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China decided to keep the slogan, which has been part of their political platform since 1989. In a declaration read at the close of the vigil, Vice-Chairperson Chow Hang-tung said the slogan is being made into a “taboo” but urged attendees to “dare to stand up and shout.”

Tiananmen Massacre vigil Victoria Park 2018

Photo: inmediahk.net.

“They want to make ‘end one-party dictatorship’ taboo. They want us to accept this reality: China is under the rule of the Communist Party, and the regime is going to last forever. We must clearly tell them, we will never accept!” Chow said.

Tiananmen Massacre vigil Victoria Park 2018

Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

“What does ‘end one-party dictatorship’ mean? Rotation of political parties. Returning power to the people. True democracy.”

Tiananmen Massacre vigil Victoria Park 2018

Alliance Vice-Chairperson Chow Hang-tung. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Speaking from the stage, Occupy co-founder Chan Kin-man also described the slogan as a “touchstone for One Country, Two Systems.”

Tiananmen Massacre vigil Victoria Park 2018

Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

When invited to shout “end one-party dictatorship,” the crowd responded in turn. Organiser estimated that 115,000 attended, whilst police put the figure at 17,000.

The Tiananmen massacre occurred on June 4, 1989 ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died when the People’s Liberation Army was deployed to crack down on protesters in Beijing.

“Red line”

In March the Chinese constitution was amended to include a line stating “the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is the most essential feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics.” A number of Chinese officials, including former director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office Wang Guangya, have said that those who call for an end to Communist rule cannot run for office.

Tiananmen Massacre vigil Victoria Park 2018

Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she could not guarantee that people will not be prosecuted for calling for an end to one-party rule.

Despite the warnings, the Hong Kong Alliance did not appear to shift its position. At a protest march last week, which served as a precursor to Monday’s vigil, Chairman Albert Ho said the slogan was “our freedom, our right, and also our belief.”

Benny Tai Victoria Park Tiananmen Vigil

Law professor Benny Tai (centre). Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP

At the vigil, law professor Benny Tai – who was criticised by the government in April for his anti-Communist remarks – dismissed potential legal risks and election disqualifications relating to the slogan.

“I think this may be hard to establish as a matter of law,” Tai told HKFP. “For that to happen it will require a very unprincipled reading of the relevant legislation, so I am not worried that those who shout the slogan will be barred from elections.”

“There are so many people, would they disqualify them all? That would create a shock greater than previous disqualifications.”

William Nee, China researcher at NGO Amnesty International, said the Chinese authorities are still “incredibly nervous” on the issue of the Tiananmen massacre. He said such an attitude extends to the slogans at the vigil.

William Nee Victoria Park Tiananmen Vigil

Amnesty China researcher William Nee. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP

“As everybody knows, that’s one of the chants that everybody chants every year,” Nee said. “So does that mean, in the future, they will retroactively disqualify everybody who has ever been to a Tiananmen vigil? I think that’s a possibility, given the way developments have shaped up over the past three or four years.”

tiananmen massacre vigil 2018 hong kong

Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

Nevertheless, Nee said he supports the decision to keep the slogan, saying: “I think the Hong Kong Alliance is completely right in that you can’t cater to Beijing’s red lines, cause once you cater to those lines, they’ll move those lines.”

Tiananmen Massacre vigil Victoria Park 2018

Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Some vigil attendees agreed, saying that ending one-party rule is central to the commemoration of the Tiananmen massacre. Mr. Ho, a retiree attending the vigil with his family, told HKFP that he welcomed this year’s focus on the slogan.

“No country in the world has a regime that can last forever. Nobody is always right, so let’s switch things around,” he said. “It’s just common sense.”

Our coverage this week:

Undeterred by legal threat, Hong Kong's Tiananmen vigil continues tradition of condemning China's 'one-party dictatorship'