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Tensions Mount in Hong Kong Ahead of Tiananmen Anniversary

FILE - Chinese men walk on Tiananmen Square, March 5, 2015.
FILE - Chinese men walk on Tiananmen Square, March 5, 2015.

June 4 will mark the anniversary of the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square, and as in years past, Hong Kong residents will mark the date with massive rallies throughout the city. Some say the event will be more meaningful this year, as the Chinese government's political influence is increasingly felt.

While mention of the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square is banned in mainland China, every year thousands of people gather in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to commemorate the anniversary. It is a time for people in Hong Kong to remember the atrocities of that day and express gratitude for their freedoms under China’s one country, two systems principle.

This year’s anniversary comes just months after pro-democracy demonstrations filled Hong Kong’s streets, and tensions continue over China’s political influence in the city. Richard Choi, deputy chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements, says a museum showcasing the history of the ’89 crackdown has come under increasing pressure by authorities and the owners of the building that houses the museum.

“And also the Owners Incorporation, because they do daily management, they try to make various regulations in recent months," he said. "They try to restrict the visitors that come to our museum to view our exhibition. Like they ask all visitors to register at the building, review all of their identities, information, identity card number, names, etc.”

The June 4 Memorial Hall museum opened in April of last year and is a permanent exhibit devoted to the 1989 crackdown. Choi says asking for identification will scare away visitors from the mainland. Recently Hong Kong's buildings assessment association also issued an order saying the museum violated building regulations.

Choi says the museum completed the recommended building improvements in March and is waiting for government officials to re-examine the site. William Nee of Amnesty International says growing media censorship in Hong Kong is another sign of mainland China’s influence in the former British colony.

“It’s amazing to see how much journalists feel that they are under pressure and how much that they feel they are under pressure and that the editors are under pressure, and we saw many allegations that Tiananmen is not getting as much coverage as in the past, newspapers are not putting Tiananmen as prominently as they were,” Nee said.

According to the Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders, in 2002 Hong Kong ranked 18th for press freedom globally. By 2014 Hong Kong had fallen to 61st place. Recently some Hong Kong reporters have come under physical attack.

Last year two assailants slashed Ming Pao newspaper editor-in-chief Kevin Lau with meat cleavers. Journalists say self-censorship is growing, and editors are giving politically sensitive stories less prominence in Hong Kong’s newspapers. Shirley Yam, newspaper columnist and vice chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, described how Beijing exerts pressure on Hong Kong’s reporters.

“Some editors will have a meeting with Beijing officials, lunch or dinner, and then you get signaled on the kind of things that they are really concerned with, and then you are supposed to do your own interpretations and you draw the line,” she said.

As of 2014, more than half of Hong Kong local media owners sit on Beijing-appointed government bodies such as the National People's Congress. Preparations are already underway for next month’s candlelight vigil in Hong Kong on June 4; more than 100,000 people are expected to attend.