Hong Kong Catholics will not hold Masses on June 4 to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre, fearing that they will run afoul Beijing's new national security laws.
The noose is tightening around the Christians of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Catholic Social Communications Office, the communications department of the Diocese of Hong Kong, announced on Tuesday, May 24, that there will be no memorial Mass on June 4 in remembrance of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, as has been the case for the past 30 years.
Several members of the diocese have expressed concern that “because frontline staff and some members of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong are concerned that holding this evening will be in violation of the National Security Law, we will not hold a memorial Mass on June 4,” the office said. “According to the Catholic faith, there are different ways to commemorate those who have died. Holding Masses is of course one way, but praying for those who have died in private or in small groups will also be very meaningful,” the statement said.
Beijing’s tightens control
While on the mainland, people are not allowed to hold official commemorations of the “June 4 incident” in Tiananmen, until now Hong Kong – which was a special administrative region – held annual vigils in memory of the victims, enjoying relative freedom of worship. But in recent years, Beijing has tightened its control over the island territory and cracked down on dissent, already banning public commemorations of Tiananmen in 2020 and again in 2021, officially because of Covid-19 restrictions.
While Chinese authorities have declined to comment on whether commemorative events are banned again this year, or whether they constitute a violation of security laws, in light of the recent arrests, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Diocese of Hong Kong has taken the lead in announcing that there will be no commemorative Masses.
Catholic leaders arrested
With the passage of “national security laws” in July 2020, the Chinese government has seized more power to crack down on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which it sees as a direct challenge to its power. It is in this context that several prominent Catholic figures have been arrested for apparent violations of the new security laws, which criminalize new categories of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. Anyone convicted under this law is sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence.
Among those arrested in August 2021 was media mogul Jimmy Lai, a Catholic and billionaire, who was sentenced in December of that year to 13 months in prison for unlawful assembly following his participation in the annual Tiananmen Square vigil.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, 91, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, was arrested on May 11 and released on bail the same day. The court charged him on May 24 along with four other prominent democracy advocates, trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which helps pro-democracy protesters pay their legal fees. His trial will begin on September 19.