Beijing (AsiaNews) – Twenty-six years ago, during the night between 3 and 4 June 1989, the People’s “Liberation” Army terminated a movement of about a million students and workers who occupied Tiananmen Square for over a month, demanding greater democracy and less corruption among the members of the Chinese Communist Party.
According to the most credible estimates, from 200 to 2,000 people were gunned down or crushed by army tanks. Tens of thousands of people were arrested in the following days and convicted as "counter-revolutionaries" because they had attacked the party’s hegemony.
Since then, the authorities have continuously defined the crackdown as "a lesser evil", necessary to ensure China's subsequent economic development. However, the wounds opened at the time have not healed. First, the demands made by the young protesters in Tiananmen Square are still alive. Xi Jinping’s fight against corruption is evidence of that. Second, year after year, the victims’ relatives continue to demand a review of the decision that led to the bloody intervention.
In particular, the Tiananmen Mothers want the names of those behind the decision to crack down and a trial to remove the counterrevolutionary label pinned on the movement. For the Mothers, the protest movement was instead patriotic, and the young people who died sacrificed themselves for the good of the country. However, China’s government and ruling party will have none of that. In fact, every time the anniversary comes around, victims’ relatives are rounded up, shipped outside of Beijing and prevented from communicating.
Still, this year, the Tiananmen Mothers have issued again a message, calling for a review of what happened and an exemplary condemnation of the perpetrators of "historical crimes". This year they cited Prime Minister Li Keqiang who called on Japan to take on the “historical responsibility" for what happened during its occupation of China.
“By the same logic,” the group said, “shouldn’t today’s Chinese leaders bear responsibility for the series of crimes, manmade famine and slaughter, perpetrated in their own country by China’s leaders at the time: Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping?”
For this reason, the Mothers want China to commemorate the deaths of people during the 1958-1961 famine, the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen crackdown, noting that leaders “cannot impose a forced amnesia”.
That Tiananmen is still an open wound for China is seen in the fact that many of those who took part in the protest so many years ago became involved in civil society groups, only to find themselves in prison, pointlessly silenced so that their experience be in vain.
China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) has prepared report with a list with the names of scores of people who took part in the Tiananmen movement 26 years ago. Many are still in imprisoned for their commitment to human rights and democracy. Many others, after what they went through in Tiananmen, have continued the non-violent struggle they began in 1989, with more becoming activists in various areas of civil society. Here is the CHRD’s report and list.
On the 26th anniversary of the Chinese government’s bloody suppression of the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations, scores of individuals who took part in the movement are detained or in prison today for their continuing efforts to push for human rights protections and democratic reforms. Several activists and lawyers seized last year for commemorating the Tiananmen Massacre are still detained and have been subjected to torture or prolonged pre-trial detention. Since last week, more activists, including 1989 participants, have been detained, put under house arrest, or visited by police who issued warnings against any activities marking the 26th anniversary of Tiananmen. The suppression of all these individuals is an indication of the government’s fear of a mass pro-democracy movement emerging inside China.
Among those 1989 participants now behind bars are some of the most prominent and influential members of China’s civil society, who have actively promoted human rights, democracy, and rule-of-law reforms since 1989. They played leadership roles or joined the protests in 1989 as young students, professors, journalists, writers, or factory workers. Some of them served previous prison terms for their role in the movement, and all of them resumed their pro-democracy and rights advocacy activities after being released. They persisted in their pursuits despite police monitoring, harassment, and restrictions on their movements and communications.
As these cases (see below) and other cases documented by CHRD reflect, the Chinese government has shown a tendency to severely persecute those involved in the 1989 movement. Relative to measures taken against other activists, punishments for June Fourth participants have tended to be harsher; many leading activists from the 1989 era have served lengthy or multiple prison sentences.
The cases listed below, far from being exhaustive, highlight former 1989 participants who are currently imprisoned or detained for their post-1989 activities promoting human rights and democracy. (For more case details, click on the links to go to CHRD’s website.)
Former 1989 participants in prison (in chronological order of their imprisonment):
Former 1989 participants in detention:
Of the individuals detained during the crackdown around the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre a year ago, 13 remain in custody. Five have been put on trial, including Gao Yu, Sheng Guan, Huang Fangmei, and housing rights activists Jia Lingmin and Liu Diwei. Five others have been indicted, including Yu Shiwen, Pu Zhiqiang, and Tang Jingling, and his associates Wang Qingying and Yuan Xinting. A further two have been formally arrested—freelance journalist Jiang Lijun and New Citizens’ Movement activist Zhang Kun. Jiang is in a Liaoning detention center, and authorities reportedly moved Zhang to a psychiatric hospital in Jiangsu Province, where his lawyers were blocked from visiting him in March 2015.
This year, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) is reviewing China’s compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. China ratified the Convention in 1988, one year before the Tiananmen Massacre.
CAT has since repeatedly raised the issue of accountability over the government’s excessive use of force, torture, and other ill-treatment of Chinese citizens in 1989. Under the Convention, it is imperative that the Chinese government end its policy of denial and deception regarding the violent suppression of the pro-democracy demonstrations. The government has an obligation under Articles 12, 13, and 14 of the Convention to promptly and impartially investigate allegations of torture, and provide state compensation to victims of torture.
On this 26th Tiananmen anniversary, CHRD reiterates its calls on the Chinese government
Chinese authorities must end the ongoing suppression of families, survivors, and supporters who demand accountability for the human rights abuses committed in 1989. In addition, the government must end its targeted persecution of members of civil society who participated in the 1989 movement.