Chinese Activist Held For Posting Tiananmen Photo Online

2013-06-04
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A plainclothes policeman (L) follows suspected journalists on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, June 4, 2013.
AFP

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu have detained a political activist on suspicion of "subversion" after he posted a photo of the 1989 pro-democracy movement on a popular social media site, his friends and family said Tuesday—the 24th anniversary of the bloody crackdown on the student-led protests in Tiananmen Square.

Veteran Suzhou activist Gu Yimin was held under criminal detention after he refused to delete the photographs from his account on the chat site QQ.

Gu's wife, Xu Yan, said she had received formal notification of her husband's detention on Sunday.

"He was taken away from his workplace at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday," Xu said on Tuesday, adding that her husband had already been out on bail since April 29 for commemorating the death of Communist Party activist Lin Zhao, who was executed in 1968 for her criticism of then supreme leader Mao Zedong.

"This time he has been placed directly under criminal detention for 'incitement to subvert state power,'" Xu said.

"He posted a single photograph of June 4, and wrote two applications for June 4 demonstrations, and he's now accused of this crime," she said.

A friend of the couple who asked to remain anonymous said the Suzhou state security police had told Gu to delete the photograph.

"But he didn't delete them ... I expect his detention was ordered by the Suzhou security police," he said.

Xu said police had told her that her husband would likely "serve time."

"The branch chief said they'd give me an answer within two weeks, after which he would either get released or held and sentenced to jail," she said.

Xu said she had hired rights lawyer Liu Weiguo to defend her husband.

Discussion banned

Authorities have banned online discussion and searches linked to the June 4, 1989 military crackdown in Beijing, which has been styled "political turmoil" and "counterrevolutionary rebellion" at different times by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

While tighter security around the anniversary is seen every year, activists said the measures being used were far stricter than in previous years.

"Before, when the June 4 anniversary came around, they would just call you up and tell you not to go anywhere, not to leave your home, and to tell them where you were going if you did, and not to arrange any gatherings, that sort of thing," Anhui-based activist Qian Jin said in an interview.

"This year, I have had the local brigade chief of the state security police come round to my house with a bunch of regular police," Qian said. "I told him I was home, but he didn't believe me, and had to come and see for himself."

"On Monday and Tuesday they called us both days to make sure we hadn't gone out."

Qian said prospects for political reform seemed gloomier under the new administration of President Xi Jinping than they had back in 1989.

There's absolutely no sign of any sort of political reform," he said. "On the contrary, the political machinery is even more tightly controlled nowadays, so as to eliminate anything that gets in its way."

'The right path'

Bao Tong, a former high-ranking Communist Party aide to late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang called on Chinese citizens to take a risk to change the government's attitude.

"Our new leaders don't bear the responsibility for June 4," Bao said in a commentary broadcast on RFA's Mandarin service this week. "But they are not entitled to block the free flow of information into China, or the free expression of opinion."

"If they continue to blockade the facts, ban publications and suppress freedom of speech about the June 4 incident, all it will prove is that they themselves are identified with past events," Bao wrote from his Beijing home, where he has been under house arrest since his release from jail in the wake of Zhao's fall from power.

"As citizens under their oppression, who can see where our leadership is going wrong, we have a duty to help them and to force them to return to the right path," he wrote.

"As Chinese people, we all have responsibility to put this pressure, which isn't without a certain amount of danger, on our leaders, so that the weighty historical matter of the June 4 crackdown can be cleared up for good."

No plan for debate

Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the government had no intention of re-opening debate on the crackdown, however.

"A correct evaluation was already made of the political turmoil and related issues that emerged at the end of the 1980s," Hong told a news conference in Beijing on Monday.

Speaking ahead of a June 7 bilateral summit between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Hong warned that any attempt to bring up the issue could harm ties.

"We would hope that the relevant countries would abandon their biased opinions and respect the facts, not use these issues to interfere in China's internal affairs and to damage U.S.-China relations," he said.

While Beijing's censors typically muzzle any online or media discussion of the topic, Hong Kong has become one of the few Chinese cities in which large crowds are able to turn out to remember those who died in 1989.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend an annual candlelight vigil in the territory's Victoria Park on Tuesday, according to Hong Kong legislator and trade unionist Lee Cheuk-yan, who heads the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China.

"Hong Kong is the only part of China that can mourn June 4," Lee said. "I think this year a lot of people from mainland China will come to take part in the candlelight vigil."

The event will include broadcast video messages from former student leader Wang Dan and Tiananmen Mother Lu Yanjing, he told reporters.

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