China's Massacre Victims' Families Struggle on With Compensation, Probe Demands

On the 28th anniversary of the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square democracy movement, campaigners for justice for victims are a dwindling group.

The Tiananmen Mothers meet for dinner in Beijing on Feb. 2, 2015.

The aging relatives of those killed when the People's Liberation Army (PLA) put a bloody end to weeks of student-led democracy protests on Beijing's Tiananmen Square 28 years ago this weekend say they will continue with their struggle for a reappraisal of the incident, which is styled a "counterrevolutionary rebellion" by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

The Tiananmen Mothers victims' group said in a statement commemorating the loved ones who died in the massacre that began on the night of June 3, 1989 that they still hope for justice in spite of advancing years and growing ill-health.

"Our search for justice for the victims has been a long and difficult path to tread, and one that has often been blocked by thorny obstacles and made harder still by heavy burdens," the group said in a statement as they commemorate those who died in the crackdown.

"The parents of those young people who were lost 28 years ago are gradually declining into old age, beset by all manner of weakness and illness," it said. "We treasure the times when we can meet with each other, and hope that we will still be here to see each other next year."

"Everyone knows very well that we don't have much time left, but still we share a common hope for our remaining years, that of justice and rehabilitation for the victims of June 4, 1989," the statement said.

Tiananmen Mothers spokeswoman You Weijie told RFA that the group represents some 128 relatives of known victims of the bloodshed, who have campaigned year in, year out, in the face of routine surveillance and police harassment, for a change in the government's stance on the matter.

"Our first letter to parliament was back in 1995," You told RFA. "Kids born in 1989 will be 28 years old this year, so we thought that we would repeat our demands one more time."

Zhang Xianling, a founder member of the Tiananmen Mothers victims group who lost her 19-year-old son during the crackdown, said the group is calling for a full and transparent investigation into the events of June 1989 and rehabilitation and compensation for the victims' families.

"Three things: go public with the truth about what happened, including a list of those who died, compensation through legal channels for the victims' families," Zhang said. "We have never had a response, ever."

Shrinking numbers

She said the group's numbers continue to shrink, meanwhile.

"We have already seen more than 40 of us die, and those who are left will continue, but those 40-some people will be unable to rest in peace," she said, remembering in particular Xue Jue, who recently died of cancer.

"When her illness was at its height, she sent me a message saying she didn't think she'd see the day that our fight was over, but that she believed we'd see victory nonetheless," Zhang said.

The government styled the 1989 student-led democracy protests, sparked in April 1989 by the death of much-loved liberal premier Hu Yaobang, a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."

Public memorials and discussions of the events of June 1989 are banned, with activists who seek to commemorate the bloodshed often detained, and veteran dissidents placed under police surveillance or detention during each anniversary.

Victims' families are permitted make private memorial ceremonies at the graves of the victims, usually under escort by the state security police.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.