Hong Kong people must be free to mark the Tiananmen Square crackdown anniversary, the EU said Wednesday, after police banned the city’s traditional annual vigil on health grounds.
It is the first time in three decades that the candlelit June 4 gathering, which usually attracts huge crowds, has been halted, and the EU added its voice to a growing international chorus of concern.
With Beijing tightening its grip on Hong Kong with a new security law, critics have accused police of using coronavirus as an excuse to ban the rally.
EU spokeswoman Virginie Battu-Henriksson said the Tiananmen commemorations in Hong Kong — the only such event permitted on Chinese soil — was a “strong signal that key freedoms continue to be protected”.
“We note the restrictions that have been put in place this year in both Hong Kong and Macau on health grounds,” she told reporters in Brussels.
“We trust that the people of Hong Kong and Macau will nevertheless be free to mark the anniversary appropriately.
“A clear commitment to fully respecting guaranteed rights and freedoms is now more important than ever in light of recent developments.”
She said the EU continues to mourn and demand justice for those killed on June 4, 1989, when China sent tanks and troops to crush student protesters demanding reforms.
Hundreds were killed in the crackdown, with some estimates suggesting more than 1,000 perished, but all talk of it is strictly censored in China.
The row over the vigil comes as tensions escalate between Beijing and the West about the freedoms and autonomy given to former British colony Hong Kong under the so-called “one country, two systems” policy.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused China of muzzling Hong Kong by banning the vigil, a week after certifying that Washington no longer regards the financial hub as autonomous from China.
Beijing plans to impose a law criminalising acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong, saying it is needed to tackle “terrorism” and “separatism”.
Opponents fear it will bring political oppression to a city supposedly guaranteed freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after its 1997 handover to China by Britain.
Britain has said it will offer millions of Hong Kongers visas and a possible route to British citizenship if China pushes ahead with the law, drawing an angry response from Beijing.