HONG KONG—Hong Kong police on Saturday confiscated a statue mourning victims of China’s 1989 crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square and arrested 13 activists, a participant said, in what critics called an escalation in political censorship in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
China’s military suppression of pro-democracy student protesters in Beijing, which killed at least hundreds, is still a taboo topic on the mainland. But in Hong Kong, a former British colony that enjoys some Western-style civil liberties, the incident is openly mourned, with tens of thousands usually attending an annual candlelight vigil on the evening of June 4, the anniversary of the crackdown.
However, on Saturday, Hong Kong police officers confiscated a Tiananmen-themed statue and a carving shortly after pro-democracy activists set them up outside a popular mall as part of their annual commemorative activities, TV news footage showed.
The “Goddess of Democracy” statue — a new replica of a similar statue that was erected in Tiananmen Square during the 1989 protests — depicts a woman holding a torch and a book labelled with the words, “Liberty,” ”Democracy” and “Justice.” The carving is a large tablet depicting the military action.
Pro-democracy activist Richard Tsoi said by telephone that police arrested him and 12 other activists, including an opposition legislator.
Hong Kong police said in a statement the two pieces had to be removed because the activists had not obtained a license to display them. Officers detained the 13 activists because they interfered with police work, the statement said. They were not immediately charged and were released on bail later Saturday.
Fellow activists condemned the police action, accusing the Hong Kong government of trying to curb public mourning of the 1989 killings.
Some of the protesters were carried away by police officers, and a prominent lawmaker said such manhandling amounted to abuse.
“We’ve staged similar activities before and have never been treated so barbarically and so violently,” pro-democracy lawmaker Albert Ho told reporters. “This is clearly a move designed to crack down on mourning activities for Tiananmen Square.”
As part of its special semi-autonomous status under Chinese rule, Hong Kong is promised Western-style freedoms typically denied in the mainland, such as freedom of protest and freedom of speech. But critics accuse the Hong Kong administration of slowly encroaching on those freedoms under pressure from Beijing.