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Victorian State Library lit by candlelight as hundreds remembers victims of Tiananmen Square protest

One of many signs displayed on the steps of the Victorian State Library, June 4 2020. The recently proposed national security laws in Hong Kong was amongst the issues raised by event organisers. Photo by Oliver Lees.

Hundreds gathered outside the Victorian State Library on Thursday to commemorate the Tiananmen Square crackdown 31 years ago and protest the Chinese Communist Party rule.

Rally organiser Frank Ruanjie was one of the students gathered at Tiananmen Square on June 4th 1989, when the Chinese government used military force to disperse the protests advocating for greater democratic freedoms.

“We come here to commemorate the heroes and the victims of the Tiananmen Square protest,” Mr Ruanjie said.

“Every year we remember, and this was the biggest one yet.”

The Chinese government estimated the death toll of the original Tiananmen Square protest to be around 200, but 2017 official documents declassified by the UK government suggest the real figure could be as high as 10,000.

Mr Ruanjie was one of several speakers who criticized the Chinese government on a range of issues at the vigil on Thursday - from the suppression of democratic protests in Hong Kong, incarceration of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and the handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

Frank Ruanjie after the rally, June 4 2020. Ruanjie has been advocating for greater democratic freedom In China for more than 30 years. Photo by Oliver Lees.

Mr Ruanjie said the Chinese Communist Party’s recent approval of national security laws in Hong Kong is a further example of deteriorating freedoms within China.

These laws were designed to tackle secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.

“Hong Kong will become the same as the mainland, they will lose freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion,” Mr Ruanjie said.

This year, for the first time in 30 years, the annual memorial was banned in Hong Kong, with authorities saying the risk of spreading the coronavirus was too high.

After airing a short documentary, those carrying candles placed them at the base of a makeshift vigil set up in front of the Sir Redmond Barry statue.

At exactly 8.09pm, Mr Ruanjie led the crowd in 64 seconds of silence.

The most famous image from the Tiananmen Square student protests of 1989, ‘Tank Man’, displayed on the steps of the Victorian State Library, June 4 2020. Photo by Oliver Lees.

Several organisers also used the vigil to warn the Victorian government of engaging with China, urging those in attendance to sign a petition in opposition of state premier Daniel Andrews’ decision to join the Belt and Road Initiative.

The economic initiative has seen China create partnerships with more than 60 states around the world to develop infrastructure, with Beijing maintaining the position that the initiative is mutually beneficial.

Mr Ruanjie said the Victorian Government should be hesitant about the arrangement.

“The Communist Party wants to export their corruption and damage the democratic system, it would be wise of Daniel Andrews to reconsider.”


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