Tiananmen anniversary marked by crackdown, Hong Kong vigil ban

Hong Kong police officers stand guard at a candlelight vigil on June 3 ahead of the 31st anniversary of the pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 June 2020

Tiananmen anniversary marked by crackdown, Hong Kong vigil ban

  • Hong Kong cancels annual candlelight vigil for the first time in 30 years
  • Tiananmen Square, where thousands of students had gathered in 1989, was quiet and largely empty on Thursday

BEIJING: China tightened controls over dissidents while pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and elsewhere sought ways to mark the 31st anniversary Thursday of the crushing of the pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
That came after authorities in Hong Kong took the extraordinary move of canceling an annual candlelight vigil in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s Victoria Park for the first time in 30 years.
Authorities cited the need for social distancing amid the coronavirus outbreak, despite the recent reopening of schools, beaches, bars and beauty parlors. Hong Kong has had relatively few cases of the virus and life has largely returned to normal in the city of 7.4 million.
However, China has long detested the vigil, the only such activity allowed on Chinese territory to commemorate victims of the crackdown, which remains a taboo subject on the mainland. Hundreds, possibly thousands of people were killed when tanks and troops assaulted the center of Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989 to break up weeks of student-led protests seen as posing a threat to authoritarian Communist Party rule.
Tiananmen Square, where thousands of students had gathered in 1989, was quiet and largely empty on Thursday. Police and armored vehicles stood sentry on the vast surface the square. Few pedestrians lined up at security checkpoints where they must show ID to be allowed through as part of mass nationwide surveillance measures aimed at squelching any dissent.
The cancelation of the vigil also comes amid a tightening of Beijing’s grip over Hong Kong, with the National People’s Congress, China’s ceremonial parliament, moving to pass national security legislation that circumvents Hong Kong’s local legislature and could severely limit free speech and opposition political activity.
In Hong Kong, a law is being passed to make it a crime to disrespect China’s national anthem and 15 well-known veteran activists were arrested and charged with organizing and taking part in illegal demonstrations. Those actions are seen as part of a steady erosion of civil rights Hong Kong was guaranteed when it was handed over from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Despite the ban on the vigil, the Asian financial hub was bracing for “pop-up” protests of the type that raged around the city during months of anti-government protests last year that often led to violent confrontations between police and demonstrators.
Thousands have been arrested over the demonstrations, which were sparked by proposed legislation that could have seen suspects extradited to mainland China where they could face torture and unfair, politically biased trials.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic and Democratic Movements of China that organizes the annual vigil has called on people around the city to light candles at 8 p.m. and plans to livestream the commemorations on its website www.64live.org.
Alliance Chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said protesters still planned to gather at the park to mourn victims of the massacre and show their support for the democratic cause in China. It wasn’t clear what form the activity would take or how many would attend. The entrance to the park was blocked by police barriers on Thursday.
“Hong Kong government tried to please or show loyalty to Beijing and ban our gathering before even the national security comes in. But we are determined,” Lee said at a kiosk set up by the group to distribute flyers in the busy Causeway Bay shopping district near the park.
Other vigils, virtual and otherwise, are planned elsewhere, including in Taiwan, the self-ruled island democracy whose government called again this year for Beijing to own up to the facts of the crackdown.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo marked the crackdown anniversary on Tuesday, a day after federal forces used tear gas to clear peaceful protesters from a park in front of the White House.
Pompeo tweeted criticism of China and Hong Kong for banning the vigil before meeting privately with a group of Tiananmen Square survivors at the State Department. That too drew criticism from China.
Alongside the exchanges of rhetoric, China’s small, beleaguered dissident community has again come under greater scrutiny from the authorities. Many have been placed under house arrest and their communications with the outside world cut off, according to rights groups.
China has released the last of those arrested for directly taking part in the Tiananmen demonstrations, but others who seek to commemorate them have been rearrested for continuing their activism.
They include Huang Qi, founder of website 64 Tianwang that sought to expose official wrongdoing. Reportedly in failing health, he is serving a 12-year-sentence after being convicted of leaking state secrets abroad.


Malaysia to reinstate pilots once Pakistani licenses OK’d

Updated 07 July 2020

Malaysia to reinstate pilots once Pakistani licenses OK’d

  • 30 percent of pilots grounded including 107 in foreign airlines

KUALA LUMPUR: The Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) will reinstate Pakistani pilots as soon as Pakistani authorities verify their permits, an official told Arab News on Monday, after their temporary suspension due to a fake license scandal. 

Pakistan grounded almost 30 percent of its pilots last week after the country’s Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said that they might have falsified their qualifications. 

Pakistan has 860 pilots, 107 of whom work for foreign airlines.

“The CAAM has sent two letters requesting verification from PCAA (Pakistani Civil Aviation Authority) as well as to inform them on the temporary suspension of Pakistani license holders in Malaysia,” Nurilya Anis Rahim, a public relations officer at CAAM, said in an email. 

Rahim added that the pilots’ licenses had been put on hold until further information from the PCAA.

“We are currently still waiting for a response from PCAA. Once an official confirmation has been made, we will reinstate these pilots with immediate effect.”

Captain Chester Voo, CAAM CEO, announced that it would temporarily suspend 20 Pakistani pilots employed with “local operators” such as flying schools, flying clubs and training organizations.

Rahim said that the decision was taken to ensure the safety and security of Malaysia’s civil aviation industry. 

“It is to ensure that all employed pilots in this country hold a valid license and abide by Malaysia’s Civil Aviation Regulation.”

The UK, EU and Vietnam have banned Pakistani pilots and barred Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) operations as well.

One analyst said that Malaysia’s stand was part of its “zero-compromises” approach.

“Malaysia has always taken a conservative stance which includes a zero-compromise on the integrity of certification and qualification of pilots,” Rizal Kamaruzzaman, a Malaysian aviation expert and executive director of Tindakan Strategi, told Arab News.

He added that the joint verification approach was an excellent opportunity for regulators in Pakistan and Malaysia to “clean” the register and weed out all pilots with dubious qualifications. 

“The move by the CAAM will also alert the rest of the airlines and general aviation aircraft to review the technical crew manifest flying into Malaysia and will definitely have a ripple effect on the aviation sector.”

He urged aviation regulators from other countries to learn a lesson from Pakistan.

“The trust and mutual recognition among regulators are a sacred pact to ensure safety for aircraft, pilots, crews, engineers and the main client that are the passengers are not compromised anywhere around the world,” he said.

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