Victoria Park in Hong Kong lies empty on June 4, 2021, after police closed the venue traditionally used to mourn the victims of China's Tiananmen Square crackdown. Photo: AFP / Peter Parks

A Hong Kong park that traditionally hosts huge vigils on the anniversary of China’s deadly Tiananmen Square crackdown lay empty for the first time late Friday as police blocked access, but flashes of defiance still flickered across the city.

Crowds have gathered at Victoria Park in years past to mark the anniversary of Chinese troops crushing peaceful democracy protests in Beijing on June 4, 1989.

Hundreds were killed in the crackdown, by some estimates more than 1,000.

Victoria Park is filled with people in 1999 marking the tenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing. Photo: AFP / Robyn Beck)

Public commemorations of the event are forbidden on the mainland and until recently semi-autonomous Hong Kong was the one place in China where large-scale remembrance was tolerated. 

But this year’s vigil was banned at a time when authorities are carrying out a sweeping clampdown on dissent following huge and often violent democracy protests two years ago.

Police threw cordons around the park, keeping crowds out and leaving the venue free of candle-carrying mourners for the first time in 32 years. 

Activists who approached the park were stopped and searched while officers used loud hailers and signs to call for people to disperse from nearby streets.

Unable to muster en masse, many Hong Kong residents still found ways to mourn the dead. 

Across the city at 8pm, when candles are traditionally lit, many residents shone mobile phone torches in the districts of Causeway Bay and Mong Kok. Others produced candles and lit them where they stood.

Police search a man near Victoria Park on June 4. Photo: AFP / Peter Parks

Some attended memorials at churches across the city that said they would open their doors to mourners. 

“I used to commemorate June 4 at Victoria Park but this year it is not safe to go there,” a 35-year-old office worker who gave her name as Beth said outside a Catholic church in Sai Wan Ho district. 

“I am not Catholic. I usually never attend mass or go to church. I just want to be part of this special occasion and commemorate because I think it is important,” she said.