On a drizzly, overcast June evening in central London, hundreds of protesters gathered to demand a revolution.
“Liberate Hong Kong!” came the chant. “Revolution of our times!”
Many of those demonstrators outside the Chinese embassy were not even born when the Tiananmen Square massacre took place on the 4th of June, 1989, when Chinese troops crushed student-led protests in Beijing, leading to the deaths of hundreds if not thousands. Many of the demonstrators are however veterans of Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests in 2019.
“We are the same as the students of Tiananmen Square,” 19-year-old Ivan told VICE World News. He withheld his last name because he feared for the safety of his family and friends back in Hong Kong.
“The meaning of June 4th to Hong Kongers is that it made it very clear that the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] is a murderous regime. You simply cannot tolerate it.”
Like many there, Ivan fled Hong Kong after the Chinese government began to aggressively crack down on pro-democracy advocates. He couldn’t complete high school, and is now living in exile in London. “Hong Kong police can't arrest me in the UK,” he said.
Hong Kong was previously the only place in China where the massacre could be publicly commemorated. But not anymore.
Citing pandemic restrictions, the Chinese government this year deployed 7,000 police to prevent public gatherings, and blocked entry to Victoria Park, where a Tiananmen vigil has been held every year since the first anniversary of the 1989 massacre.
Banning the vigil is part of a disturbing crackdown on Hong Kong’s freedoms in the wake of the 2019 pro-democracy protests. Last year, China imposed a National Security Law which has broadly criminalised people, publications, and gatherings who are seen as subversive to the state.
On the 17th of June, Hong Kong Police arrested the editor and four executives at Apple Daily, the city’s only pro-democracy newspaper. With its assets frozen, the 26-year-old publication announced that it would shut down for good.
“After going through the 2019 movement, I understood clearly. The regime will suppress us by all means. The same way they did in mainland China,” Ivan said.
Because of the deteriorating political situation, the UK has allowed Hong Kongers born before 1997 – the year Britain returned the former colony to China – to apply for visas.
More than 150,000 people are expected to apply for this visa by the end of this year. Lincoln Chong, 26, is one of them.
Chong said he attended the vigil in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park every year for as long as he can remember. This year he continued the tradition in London.
“Hong Kongers are vibrant and resilient,” Chong said. “When Victoria Park vigil is banned, they gather outside the park and light candles on street corners. People are unwilling to give up.”