China to Try Dissident Who Visited Tiananmen Massacre Grave

2016-06-28
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Activist Chen Yunfei leads a protest against alleged pollution at a petrochemical plant in Pengzhou, in Sichuan province, March 6, 2015.
Activist Chen Yunfei leads a protest against alleged pollution at a petrochemical plant in Pengzhou, in Sichuan province, March 6, 2015.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener

A prominent rights activist in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan is to stand trial on public order charges after marking the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, his lawyer said.

Former Tiananmen Square protester Chen Yunfei, 48, was initially detained on subversion charges on March 25, 2015 near Sichuan's provincial capital, Chengdu.

He had just visited the grave of Tiananmen massacre victim Wu Guofeng along with a group of fellow activists, his lawyer Ran Tong said.

Chen, who has campaigned vigorously for human rights protections and against environmental pollution in the past two decades, was initially held on suspicion "incitement to subvert state power" and "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."

But Ran said the more serious subversion charge has since been dropped, and Chen will stand trial on Thursday.

"He was initially detained for commemorating the dead, and they hoped to use that to put him away," Ran said on Tuesday. "But it was too ridiculous, as I have said before, and actually prosecutors in Chengdu accept that."

"So that charge has now been dropped, and now all they have to go on is some random content he posted online," he said.

Ran said that once Chinese police hold someone under criminal detention, it is rare for them to be acquitted.

"If they let him go altogether, the police would lose face, so they ... still have to pin some minor charge on him," he said.

Political persecution

Fellow activists have said the detention amounts to political persecution by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, although they vowed to continue their rights activism in Chen's absence.

"We're not afraid to do jail time," Sichuan-based activist Tan Zuoren told RFA. "All these people we are helping are the most vulnerable in Chinese society."

"We, the ordinary people, have to stand up for them, because the government doesn't," he said.

Fellow Chengdu activist Huang Xiaomin said life will get still harder for rights activists when China's first Charities Law places tough restrictions on nongovernment groups' fund-raising activities from September.

"Prisoners of conscience already live such distorted lives, in such terribly harsh conditions, and the effect on their children has already attracted international concern," Huang said.

"We hope the international community will continue to support us, whether it's just watching what happens to us or helping us out in some way," he said.

"This helps China's political prisoners to feel a sense of hope and support," he said.

Nationwide crackdown

Chen last spoke to RFA after he and a group of fellow activists were "forcibly dragged" to the local police station after they gathered outside a petrochemical plant in Sichuan's Pengzhou county to protest alleged pollution on March 6.

In 2014, the authorities launched a nationwide crackdown on activists and family members of victims of the 1989 military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square student-led pro-democracy movement in the run-up to the 25th anniversary on June 4.

The government bans public memorials marking the event, and has continued to ignore growing calls in China and from overseas for a reappraisal of the 1989 student protests, which it once styled a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."

The number of people killed when People's Liberation Army tanks and troops entered Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989, has never been confirmed.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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