Hong Kong Activists Call for Reappraisal of Tiananmen Crackdown

2013-05-27
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Demonstrators calling for democracy and a reappraisal of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown march in Hong Kong on May 26, 2013.
RFA

Activists in Hong Kong have vowed to keep up pressure on the Chinese government for an official reappraisal of the 1989 military crackdown on unarmed pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, amid tight security in mainland China ahead of the sensitive June 4 anniversary.

"It is patriotic to call for a reappraisal of June 4, and an end to one-party dictatorship," Hong Kong legislator and trade unionist Lee Cheuk-yan, who heads the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, said in an interview on Monday.

"Patriotism isn't the same thing as loving the Party," said Lee, whose Alliance commemorated the Tiananmen Square crackdown on Sunday with a demonstration of more than 1,000 people.

"We need a new definition of patriotism, so that's where we came up with our slogan for this year," Lee told RFA's Mandarin Service ahead of the 24th anniversary of the bloodshed.

The protesters marched from Victoria Park through downtown Hong Kong on Sunday, carrying banners and chanting "The Hong Kong spirit is patriotic!" and "Reappraise June 4, we will never give up!"

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 the student-led pro-democracy movement of 1989.

Mainland activists targeted

Across the internal border in mainland China, annual security measures and surveillance targeted political activists and the families of victims.

In the southern city of Guangzhou, a short boat ride up the Pearl River from Hong Kong, police handed down administrative jail sentences to two activists who called online for gathering on the city's streets on June 4, to "look for their cell phones," a lawyer said on Monday.

"When [Qiu Hua] called me this afternoon ... the officer in charge of his case had already told him he [and Yang Tingjian] would be detained for 15 days each," lawyer Wu Kuiming told RFA's Cantonese Service on Monday.

"Later, he sent me a text to say he was planning to go on hunger strike in protest at his illegal detention," Wu said.

Also in Guangzhou, the lawyer Tang Jingling said he and his wife had both been taken away by seven or eight state security police for questioning in the early hours of Monday morning.

"It's probably because of June 4," Tang said. "The authorities have really started cracking down hard around June lately, and they have been detaining people and putting them under surveillance all over the place."

"People like us aren't being allowed to meet for meals together, or to leave our homes, or not very often," he said.

"We're also not allowed to organize any events related to June 4, or to post anything online about it."

'Upholding democracy' for Hong Kong

Back in Hong Kong, writer and Independent Chinese PEN member Wu Yisan told the crowd: "We in Hong Kong have continued to take part in memorial events for the past 24 years, which is truly amazing."

"We have continued to stand for a Chinese worldview, as well as to uphold justice, and never to forget the suffering under the one-party dictatorship," Wu told rallying demonstrators.

He hit out at critics of the marches, often with strong links to Beijing, who have said Hong Kong citizens should mind their own business.

"For as long as there is no democracy in China, Hong Kong can never be an island to itself," Wu said. "It is impossible to draw a line between Hong Kong and mainland China ... and we must continue to speak out about the crackdown, if we are to uphold freedom, justice, and democracy for Hong Kong."

Annual demonstrations

Last year, tens of thousands of people converged on Hong Kong's Victoria Park to mark the 23rd anniversary, in what has become something of a political tradition in the territory.

Under the terms of its 1997 handover from British rule, Hong Kong has been promised the continuation of existing freedoms of expression and association for 50 years, although the territory has blocked former Tiananmen student leaders from entering the city to attend previous anniversary events.

Retired university professor Ding Zilin, who founded the pressure group Tiananmen Mothers after her 17-year-old son died in the bloodshed, said the annual Hong Kong demonstrations were a source of great comfort to her.

"Every year, at this time of year, I want to thank our compatriots in Hong Kong," Ding said. "They are doing on behalf of the victims'
relatives that which we cannot do for ourselves."

"They are holding high the banner of universal values for humanity," she said.

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 unarmed pro-democracy protests and hunger strikes a “counterrevolutionary uprising,” has not issued an official toll or name list.

The crackdown, which officials styled in a news conference at the time as a necessary way 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.

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.