Macau has banned a vigil marking China’s deadly Tiananmen crackdown for the second year in a row, with authorities this time saying the event would “incite subversion”, in the latest sign of withering political freedoms there.
Like neighbouring Hong Kong, Macau is a former colony and a semi-autonomous Chinese city granted certain freedoms unseen on the authoritarian mainland.
Chinese authorities have long maintained a more robust grip on Macau which has witnessed none of the widespread democracy protests that have engulfed Hong Kong over the years.
But the annual 4 June Tiananmen vigil was a rare exception, marked for more than three decades with a photo exhibition and small gathering.
Now it has been de facto outlawed.
Activists on Tuesday posted police documents online in which officers said slogans and information displayed at the previous Tiananmen photo exhibitions and vigils “defame and slander the central government, incite subversion and disturb the harmony in society”.
Police also cited the coronavirus as a reason to ban the event, although Macau has recorded no cases in months.
It is the first time authorities have made clear a political reason for banning remembrance of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, an event that has largely been purged from collective memory on the mainland.
Last year’s cancellation of the vigil and photo exhibition in Macau was blamed by authorities only on the coronavirus pandemic.
Antonio Ng, from the Macau Union of Democratic Development, described the ban as another political watershed.
“No law has been changed. Why all of a sudden, the vigil, which has always been peaceful, rational and lawful, is now accused of violating the Penal Code?” he wrote on Facebook.
“This is obviously a crime created for political persecution, to crack down on the vigil and violate Macanese rights of assembly and demonstration,” he added.
Hong Kong’s Tiananmen vigils have attracted hundreds of thousands of people, especially in more recent years as large chunks of the city chafe under Beijing’s rule.
Last year’s vigil was also banned in Hong Kong for the first time on public health grounds — although tens of thousands defied police and turned up anyway.
Authorities have already indicated they plan to ban this year’s rally.
It is unclear if people will hit the streets now that Hong Kong has been enveloped in a sweeping national security law that has criminalised much dissent.
More than 100 pro-democracy figures have been arrested under the new law while some leaders of last year’s unauthorised rally are currently serving jail sentences.