The football pitches sat empty and silent under the cold glare of floodlights, barricaded off on all sides. Nearby, hundreds of police patrolled the grounds, stopping and searching passersby and sealing off entrances to the park.
For the second year in a row, the sea of candlelight that used to illuminate Hong Kong’s Victoria Park every June 4 was extinguished, as authorities sought to snuff out all public commemorations of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre from the city – the last place on Chinese controlled soil where they were held.
But the heavy police presence on Saturday failed to deter some Hongkongers from approaching the park and conducting their own acts of commemoration in defiance – by holding up electronic candles and phone flashlights or quietly singing songs of remembrance.
“It’s heartbreaking to see (Victoria Park) like this,” said a woman surnamed Lau who came to the park with a bouquet of white and red roses and electric candles.
“Hong Kong has sunk far and fast into a police state,” said Lau, a longtime volunteer for the Tiananmen Mothers Campaign, a group supporting the families of the victims.
For three decades, Hong Kong had mourned the victims of China’s bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters with a candlelight vigil on the night of June 4 that would be attended by tens of thousands of people vowing never to forget.
But since 2020, the Hong Kong government has banned the event citing risks from the coronavirus – though many Hongkongers believe that is just an excuse to clamp down on shows of public dissent following pro-democracy protests that swept the city in 2019.
On Friday, a government statement said large parts of Victoria Park would be closed from Friday night until the early hours of Sunday to “prevent any unauthorized assemblies which affect public safety and public order, and to prevent the risk of virus transmission due to such gatherings.”
It came a day after police warned that residents risk committing the crime of “unlawful assembly” if they showed up in the park – even if alone.
Throughout Saturday, large numbers of police patrolled the park and the neighboring Causeway Bay shopping district.