Hong Kong detains an artist on the eve of the 35th anniversary of China's Tiananmen Square crackdown

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong police briefly detained a performance artist on the eve of the 35th anniversary of China's Tiananmen Square crackdown, underlining the city's shrinking freedom of expression.

Police on Monday took away Sanmu Chen on a street of Causeway Bay, a busy Hong Kong shopping district, close to a park that for decades hosted an annual vigil to mourn the victims of the 1989 crackdown. Before officers approached Chen, he mimed the action of drinking in front of a police van. He also appeared to be drawing or writing something in the air.

Police later said that officers took Chen to a police station because they found him causing chaos at the scene. After an investigation, Chan was released unconditionally, police said.

On the same day last year, Chen was also detained by police around the same area after chanting “Hong Kongers, do not be afraid. Don’t forget tomorrow is June 4."

For decades, the vigil in Hong Kong's Victoria Park used to draw thousands of people each June 4 to remember the crackdown, during which government troops opened fire on student-led pro-democracy protesters, resulting in hundreds, if not thousands, dead.

But the vigil has vanished under the shadow of a national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020. Critics say its disappearance has illustrated that the freedoms promised to be kept intact in Hong Kong for 50 years when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 have been drastically eroded.

After the enactment of the law, the group that organized the vigil disbanded. Three of its former leaders, including activist Chow Hang-tung, were charged with subversion under the sweeping law. Tiananmen-related statues were also removed from universities.

Like last year, Victoria Park on Tuesday will host a carnival by pro-Beijing groups.

Beijing and Hong Kong governments have insisted that the law helped bring back stability to the city following huge anti-government protests in 2019.

Earlier on Monday, police arrested an eighth person on suspicion of alleged sedition over their posting of social media content about commemorating the Tiananmen crackdown under a new, home-grown national security law. Among the suspects in the case is activist Chow, who is now being held in custody.

Several of the city’s pro-democracy activists told The Associated Press that police have inquired about their plans for Tuesday. At least one activist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to concerns of government retribution, said they were asked not to go to "sensitive places."

On Sunday, a Christian newspaper, which typically publishes content related to the event ahead of its anniversary, left its front page mostly blank in its latest issue. It said it responded to the current situation by turning words into blank squares and white space.

Last week, Hong Kong's Roman Catholic cardinal, Stephen Chow, wrote an article that subtly referenced the anniversary of the crackdown, calling for forgiveness, which he said could make “reconciliation and healing” possible.

Chow said the event 35 years ago still remained a sore spot and needed to be handled properly, but said that his faith compelled him to forgive anyone and anything.

“Perhaps it is through forgiveness that all parties can escape the finger-pointing and the painful mindset of ‘I will never forgive'," he wrote.