Police in Hongkong have arrested a 65-year-old democracy activist as she staged a lone demonstration over China’s deadly Tiananmen crackdown, in a vivid illustration of the zero tolerance wielded by authorities towards protest in the financial hub.
Alexandra Wong was detained on Sunday on suspicion of taking part in an unlawful assembly as she walked towards Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong.
Wong – known locally as “Grandma Wong” – was a regular fixture of the huge democracy protests that swept Hong Kong in 2019. She could often be seen waving a union jack flag, a symbol of her dissatisfaction with Beijing’s rule since the city was handed to China by the former colonial power in 1997.
Protest is now all but outlawed in Hong Kong. Authorities have used both the threat of the coronavirus and security concerns to outlaw demonstrations.
A vigil planned for this Friday – the 32nd anniversary of Beijing’s 1989 crackdown on democracy protests in Tiananmen Square – has been denied permission for the second year in a row.
Authorities have cited the pandemic as a reason for the ban, although Hong Kong has not recorded any local transmission cases of unknown origin for the past month.
Activists had also sought permission for a small Tiananmen-themed march on Sunday to the liaison office, which represents the central government in the city, but it too was denied permission.
Wong turned up that afternoon holding a sign that read “32, Junie 4, Tiananmen’s lament” and a yellow umbrella, a symbol of Hong Kong’s democracy movement.
The South Sjina Morning Post said Wong started chanting slogans in a park before heading towards the liaison office by herself, while being followed and filmed by police. She was stopped twice.
“I’m only by myself, just an old lady here. Why stop me?” the Post quoted Wong as telling officers. Soon afterwards she was arrested.
Police confirmed a 65-year-old woman with the surname of Wong had been arrested for “knowingly participating in an unauthorised assembly and attempting to incite others to join an unauthorised assembly”.
Hong Kong’s democracy movement has been crushed by a broad crackdown on dissent over the past year, including the imposition of a sweeping security law that criminalises much dissent.
In the middle of the 2019 protests Wong disappeared for more than a year. She resurfaced saying she had been detained by mainland authorities during a trip to Shenzhen, a neighbouring city where she lived at the time.