Detained Hong Kong activist says arrest meant to 'frighten'

HONG KONG (AP) — A Hong Kong activist was released Saturday after being detained on suspicion of publicizing a commemoration of China’s deadly crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and said her arrest was meant to have a chilling effect on marking the anniversary.

Chow Hang Tung had helped organize previous candlelight vigils on June 4, and her arrest Friday coincided with the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989.

Police said Chow was arrested on suspicion of publicizing an unauthorized assembly. The vigil was banned for a second year running, with authorities in the semi-autonomous Chinese city citing pandemic-related social distancing restrictions.

“Somehow this prohibition on promoting an unlawful, prohibited assembly became a prohibition on promoting any remembrance of the June 4 massacre, in any form, in any place, in any format by anyone,” Chow told reporters after her release on bail Saturday.

She said the government was using a “quantum leap of logic” in her arrest, and said authorities aimed to “frighten” people and prevent them from marking the Tiananmen crackdown.

She said those working to prevent the commemoration were covering “the crimes of the killers in 1989” and “helping and consolidating this unjust one-party dictatorship.”

Chow is a key member of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which has organized the annual vigil in the city's Victoria Park. In recent days, she said she would still go to the park on her own, despite the ban, and urged others to light candles wherever they were.

Hundreds, if not thousands of people lost their lives when China’s military put down student-led pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. China’s ruling Communist Party has never allowed public events on the mainland to mark the anniversary.

Chinese officials have said that the country’s rapid economic development since what they call the “political turmoil” of 1989 proves that decisions made at the time were correct.

Although police on Friday closed off parts of Victoria Park and arrested Chow, hundreds of Hong Kongers were undeterred, gathering to walk around the perimeter of the park. Many dressed in black and used their phones' flashlights instead of candles.

Across the city, street booths were also set up and small groups gathered in various locations to light candles.

Police said at least six people — four men and two women aged between 20 and 75 — were arrested across Hong Kong as of 11.30 p.m. Friday. They were arrested on suspicion of inciting others to participate in an unauthorized assembly, common assault, criminal damage, disorderly conduct in a public place and obstruction of police.