Since Beijing imposed a drastic national security law in 2020 to end pro-democracy protests, traditional candlelight vigils, attended by tens of thousands of people, have been banned in the city. The Tiananmen Museum was forced to close, and commemorative sculptures were unbolted.

Annual Catholic services remained one of the last ways for Hong Kongers to come together publicly in memory of the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown.

But this year, they were also canceled, the Church fearing to be worried by the authorities.

“We find it very difficult in the current social atmosphere,” said Martin Ip, chaplain of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students, one of the organizers.

“Our main objective is not to break the law,” he told AFP.

– “Foreign agent” –

In neighboring mainland China, where the communist regime has never expressed regret for the 1989 massacre, the subject is taboo.

But for a long time, in Hong Kong, this part of history could be taught in schools. Everything has changed since the entry into force in June 2020 of the national security law, intended to allow Beijing to print its authoritarian mark on the territory.

For thirty years, every year the now-disbanded Hong Kong Alliance held the annual vigil. She is being prosecuted for “incitement to subversion”, a national security offence.

Police have accused the Alliance of being a “foreign agent”, rhetoric that echoes that of Beijing that the Tiananmen protests were fomented from outside.

The June 4 Museum, managed by this Alliance, was forced to close its doors last year.

Others preferred to throw in the towel, not knowing where the red line not to cross is.

Six universities in Hong Kong have removed from their campuses works that pay tribute to the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown.

The “Pillar of Shame”, a statue by Danish artist Jens Galschiot, was removed from the University of Hong Kong shortly before Christmas.

At Lingnan University, a mural by artist Chen Weiming was removed and stored in a room.

Her statue of the “Goddess of Democracy” at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) was sent to an undisclosed “safe place”.

The universities claim that they never consented to the presence of these works, and that their removal is based on legal risks.

– “Freedom to speak” –

At the place where the goddess stood, only a small trace of her square pedestal remains.

As for the pillar, it was replaced by benches in the form of pebbles and flowerpots.

“This reflects the fact that in a few years, no one will know what happened there,” sculptor Galschiot told AFP.

He tried to repatriate his sculpture to Europe, but the university refused to employ its teams to help him, and the logistics companies did not dare to get involved. They “say it’s too complicated and dangerous,” says the artist.

As for Chen Weiming, he is waging a legal battle against the CUHK. “They are trying to erase a shameful episode in history in which the state committed a crime against its people,” the artist said indignantly.

Earlier this year, the University of Hong Kong cemented a June 4 slogan painted on campus, saying it was “normal maintenance” of the premises.

In the city’s public libraries, 57 books on Tiananmen can no longer be borrowed, according to a count by the Hong Kong Free Press media.

From now on, to commemorate the Tiananmen massacre, we must leave Hong Kong. Dissidents in exile are creating their own museums in the United States, and activists are planning to resurrect the “Pillar of Shame” in Taiwan.

“In the end, it’s not about June 4,” Galschiot analyzes.

“It’s about the freedom to talk about what happened inside China, in history… the right to talk about what happened everywhere.”