MIN LEE (CP)
Hong Kong police have seized a second statue dedicated to victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, in what critics called an attack on freedom of expression in this semiautonomous Chinese territory.
The Chinese military's suppression of pro-democracy student protests in June 1989, which killed at least hundreds, is off-limits on the mainland, but it is openly mourned and criticized in Hong Kong, a former British colony that is guaranteed Western-style civil liberties.
However, days before the crackdown's 21st anniversary, Hong Kong democracy activists have accused authorities of taking a less tolerant approach this year. On Saturday, Hong Kong police confiscated a large statue and a carving erected in memory of the Tiananmen victims on the grounds that activists didn't have a license to display them. They also arrested 13 people who tried to protect the two pieces.
Defiant activists paraded a second statue — a smaller version of the "Goddess of Democracy" statue seized Saturday — during a protest on Sunday, and left it by a popular shopping mall late in the day. Hong Kong police took it about an hour later, said Lee Cheuk-yan, a pro-democracy legislator who was guarding the statue. Lee, who was also arrested Saturday, was detained again Sunday along with a fellow activist.
"This is an escalation in political persecution. They can't even tolerate a 'Goddess of Democracy' statue. What kind of government is this? What kind of Hong Kong is this?" Lee told The Associated Press in a phone interview Monday.
The opposition lawmaker wasn't immediately charged and was freed on bail after two hours.
Hong Kong police said in a statement Monday they removed the second statue because it also wasn't licensed. The two activists were arrested on suspicion of interfering with police work, the statement said.
Asked by a reporter, a Hong Kong Cabinet official declined to comment on the seized statues and arrests, but said the government had no intention of banning the territory's annual candlelight vigil in honour of Tiananmen victims scheduled for Friday. The vigil typically draws tens of thousands of people.
Secretary for constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam said the gathering has been held every year, and added "This year is no exception."
As part of its special semiautonomous status under Chinese rule, Hong Kong is supposed to enjoy Western-style freedoms that are typically denied in the mainland, but critics say the local government is gradually curbing those freedoms under pressure from Beijing.
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