(NEW YORK) – PEN America today condemned the arrests last Sunday by Hong Kong police of 23 citizens, including performance artists Sanmu Chen and Chan Mei Tung, at a gathering to commemorate the 34th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. PEN America called the arrests “disturbing” and  “unjustified” and part of Hong Kong’s escalating crackdown on free expression.

“Hong Kong authorities demonstrated on June 4 they are in lock step with Beijing in attempting to erase the memory of the Chinese Communist Party’s massacre of peaceful pro-democracy protesters in 1989,” said Angeli Datt, PEN America’s China research and advocacy lead.

“The unjustified arrests of artists Sanmu Chen and Chan Mei-Tung, and other protestors, is indicative of how the authorities are increasingly abusing the colonial-era ‘sedition’ law amid the  crackdown on free expression brought in under the National Security Law (NSL). The United Nations have called on Hong Kong authorities to repeal the NSL, which infringes on the right to free expression guaranteed by Hong Kong and international law. These arrests show that Hong Kongers refuse to be cowed into silence. While we welcome the release of those detained for marking the anniversary, all charges should be dropped immediately.”

“With the disturbing trend of persecution among pro-democracy artists and activists in Hong Kong, we are alarmed by these latest mass detentions,” said Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) Director Julie Trébault.

“For years Hong Kong was the only territory on Chinese soil that held an annual vigil to remember the victims of the massacre, but the NSL has criminalized this effort to remember history and honor the dead. Earlier this year, Hong Kong police seized the Pillar of Shame, a sculpture that sat at Hong Kong University’s campus for 24 years to remind Hong Kongers of the murder of peaceful protesters, and stripped public libraries of books about the Tiananmen Massacre amid a purge of literature brought about by the NSL.The NSL has been used to instigate a powerful wave of self-censorship that threatens all forms of free speech and artistic freedom among Hong Kong’s people.”

Following the arrests, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) called for the release of those detained for exercising their right to free expression and peaceful assembly.

Hong Kong authorities have long restricted the right to peaceful assembly through laws such as the Public Order Ordinance which requires a police permit for demonstrations, in violation of international human rights standards, and was revised in 2017 to allow authorities to prohibit the display of any flag, artwork or other symbol at public gatherings if they believe the display would lead to a breach of peace.

In advance of the June 4th anniversary, Hong Kong security chief Chris Tang, warned that the Hong Kong police authorities would take action against anyone intending to harm national security. Despite the widespread censorship, artists such as Liu Renxian, released artwork in support of the Tiananmen Square anniversary. Self-exiled Hong Kong visual artist and activist Kacey Wong was among those who led events in support of the June 4th anniversary outside Hong Kong.

Media reported that the 23 people detained on Sunday were all released on bail on the morning of June 5. However, many of them will be subjected to further investigation in the coming days. Hong Kong’s Security Bureau has publicly defended the June 4th detentions, claiming that law enforcement actions were based on evidence, while condemning the reporting of the UNHCR and Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) for making “unfounded and false accusations” with the intention of leading a smear campaign against the Hong Kong police.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. ARC recently released Arresting Art: Repression, Censorship and Artistic Freedom in Asia, a publication on the state of artistic freedom in Asia, as well as a limited series podcast, Creating Artistic Resilience: Voices of Asia, featuring interviews with artist-activists from Asia, including an episode with Kacey Wong, activist and visual artist from Hong Kong.

If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC.