Police Crack Down on 1989-Linked Memorials

2013-04-03
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china-graves-april2012.gif
Chinese families gather during the annual "Qing Ming" festival or Tomb Sweeping Day at a cemetery in Fujian province, April 3, 2012.
AFP

Chinese authorities have begun a security clampdown on the relatives of pro-democracy activists who died in the 1989 military crackdown at Tiananmen Square, warning and questioning several ahead of the traditional Chinese grave-sweeping festival on Friday, activists said.

Yu Shiwen, a former 1989 protester from the central city of Zhengzhou, was detained by police for 24 hours after posting plans online for a public memorial for Tiananmen Square victims in Henan's Zhengding county.

Activists Ma Shaofang, Chen Wei, Hu Shigen, Li Hao, Guo Haifeng, and An Ning also signed up for the memorial announcement in an online posting.

"Those who were directly affected by this terrible tragedy have been its keepers for the past 24 years," the post said. "For 24 years, they have been prevented from holding an open ceremony to honor the victims."

The pain of the victims' families is greatest around April 5, on the festival of Qing Ming where families traditionally visit and tend to family graves.

"Every time Qing Ming comes around, all they can do is light incense in silence."

Private observance planned

Beijing-based activist Qi Zhiyong, who was maimed when a tank ran over his legs, said he had received a call from state security police at the weekend warning him not to take part in any memorial activities over the Qing Ming weekend.

"It's nearly Qing Ming, and I always feel very sad and cry a lot," Qi said.

"The state security police called me and told me I couldn't get in touch with them," he said in a reference to families of other victims.

"I am not allowed to join in any memorial events either," he said. "I will be commemorating the victims of June 4 in a private manner, because I will never forget."

Xian-based democracy activist Zhao Changqing said he had also signed the online call for a memorial.

"This would be very meaningful, to commemorate the victims of June 4," Zhao said. "I was part of that generation and I took part in the student movements in Xian and Beijing."

Zhao said the demands of the 1989 protesters for an end to official corruption and true democracy remain unmet.

"The best memorial we could make for them would be to put everything we have into working for democracy and human rights in China, and complete the transition to a constitutional and democratic government," he said.'

'Consequences'

Meanwhile, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, rights activist Wei Zhenling said he was called in for questioning by Hangzhou state security police and warned not to visit any graves on Qing Ming.

"They warned me not to go, and said that if I did, I would have to bear the consequences," Wei said.

"They didn't care what I did online, whether I wrote stuff or whether I didn't, but they said I wasn't to go there, on any account."

Hangzhou-based activist Chen Shuqing said members of the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP) planned to visit the graves of two founder members on Friday.

"Every year we like to go to the grave of Nie Min, so we will go there this year," Chen said. "We will also go and sweep the grave of Wang Donghai," he said.

However, fellow Zhejiang activist Lu Gengsong said state security police appeared to be aware of their plans.

"Some friends told me that Wang Donghai's widow was put under a lot of pressure, and is no longer at home," Lu said, shortly before being called in for questioning himself.

Numbers still unclear

The number of people killed when People's Liberation Army (PLA) tanks and troops entered Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989 remains a mystery.

Beijing authorities once put the death toll at "nearly 300,"  but the central government, which labelled the six weeks of pro-democracy protests a “counterrevolutionary uprising,” has not issued an official toll or list of names.

The crackdown, which officials said in a news conference at the time was necessary to suppress a "counterrevolutionary rebellion," sparked a wave of international condemnation, and for several years China was treated as a near-pariah, as Western governments offered asylum to student leaders fleeing into exile.

The Chinese Red Cross initially reported 2,600 deaths but quickly retracted its statement, while the Tiananmen Mothers, which represents all victims of the crackdown who died or were maimed, says it has confirmed 186 deaths, although not all at the hands of the army.

Reported by Hai Nan and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.