Beijing (AsiaNews) – On the 19th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, as China prepares to celebrate its first Olympics, some of those who protested against the country’s corruption and lack of democracy in the 1989 demonstrations are still languishing in prison or under house arrest, this according to Chinese Human Rights Defender, which monitors the human rights situation in China. At present at least eight Beijing residents are still imprisoned for participating in pro-democracy protests in 1989, and about a dozen Beijing activists have been intimidated, monitored or put under house arrest ahead of the anniversary.
The cases of these "Tiananmen prisoners" have been documented by international human rights groups, along with that of thousands of other unknown pro-democracy activists, but it is not widely known that they are still behind bars.
The government has vehemently denied that China has any political prisoners in its jails today, justifying the long imprisonment of protesters by accusing them of “violent” crimes like murder and destruction.
Two of these prisoners, Li Yujun and Zhu Gengsheng, are serving a suspended death sentence for “counter-revolutionary destruction.” Both are locked up in Beijing Nº 2 Prison.
The other six Beijing prisoners are Shi Xuezhi, Li Zhixin, Chang Jingqiang, Wu Chunqi, Yang Pu and Miao Deshun. All of them were given life sentences for “counter-revolutionary destruction” and deprived of political rights for their entire life.
In recent years, under international pressure, China has released some 1989 prisoners. However, even those released are still faced with restrictions such as "deprivation of political rights," which in the Chinese context includes restrictions on freedom of movement, bans on writing articles and accepting interviews, and subjection to police surveillance.
Three residents of Beijing are known to have been released in 2006.
Dong Shengkun, who had served in the People's Liberation Army, was ashamed of and outraged by the army's action against civilians during the crackdown on Tiananmen protests. The army veteran took part in the burning of an army truck and served 17 years in jail of a suspended life sentence. The same fate befell Zhang Maosheng and Sun Chuanheng, who after their release in 2006 were deprived of their political rights.
Pro-democracy activists in the capital have also been victims of government repression even though they have not been arrested.
On 23 May, Qi Zhiyong, an activist who was shot and disabled during the Tiananmen Square clashes, was placed under house arrest between 23 and 28 May, and again on 31 May with police stationed at his home. When police learnt that journalists were coming to interview him, they took him away on 1 June.
On 30 May and 1 June, several Beijing-based independent writers and scholars, including Liu Xiaobo, Jiang Qisheng, Yu Haocheng and Zhang Zuhua, were questioned for hours by the police from the National Security Unit of Beijing Public Security Bureau about commemorative articles they wrote, which were published on a new website called Tiananmen Mother.
At least 12 activists have been placed under house arrest for the entire period of commemoration.