Hong Kong democracy vigil leader released on bail

One of the organisers of the annual vigil remembering Beijing’s deadly Tiananmen Square crackdown was released on bail Saturday after authorities prevented the sensitive commemoration from taking place on the massacre’s 32nd anniversary.

Lawyer Chow Hang-tung, one of the few remaining prominent democracy activists not already in jail or in exile, was detained by police on Friday morning for publicising the banned June 4 vigil in Victoria Park where Hong Kongers traditionally come together every year.

“I reject all the allegations,” Chow, vice-chair of a democracy group behind the vigil, said outside a Hong Kong police station after her release, accusing the financial hub’s police force of abusing its powers.

“The arrest yesterday is obviously an unjust preventive arrest with a blatant purpose of stopping myself from physically being in Victoria Park and to frighten other people from doing the same.”

She was released on HK$10,000 ($1,300) cash bail and needs to report back to police on July 5. 

The 37-year-old activist wrote in a May 29 Facebook post that “lighting a candle is not a crime” and said she would light a candle in public on June 4 to commemorate the anniversary.

Chow said the Facebook post, her articles and media interviews were used by police as evidence against her.

“They want to threaten the media by saying if you are doing more interviews on this sensitive topic, your interviewees will get arrested,” Chow said, adding that she would continue to speak up. 

While detained in the police station, Chow said she fasted for a day in commemoration of the anniversary of the crackdown in which hundreds were killed, by some estimates more than 1,000.

Soldiers marched into Beijing and opened fire on local residents and student protesters on June 4, 1989, crushing a weeks-long wave of demonstrations calling for political change and curbs to official corruption.

On Friday, police cordoned off the city’s Victoria Park where huge crowds, often tens of thousands strong, have held candlelit vigils on each June 4 for three decades for those killed in Beijing.

Crowds have swelled in recent years as Hong Kongers chafe under Beijing’s increasingly assertive rule.

However, this year’s vigil was banned at a time when Hong Kong authorities are carrying out a sweeping clampdown on dissent following huge and often violent democracy protests two years ago.

The park laid empty for the first time as police blocked access, but flashes of defiance still flickered across the city on Friday night as residents simultaneously turned their mobile phone lights or lit candles in multiple districts across the city to mark the date.

Public commemorations of the June 4 crackdown are forbidden on the mainland.

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