The organizer of a public memorial event marking the 23rd anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown has been taken away by state security police, amid calls for a change in government attitude towards dissent ahead of a key leadership transition in the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"They didn't detain my father during the day, but they came in the evening and took him away," said Mei Zuheng, son of Mei Chongbiao, who organized a commemorative event in the People's Square in the southwestern city of Guiyang earlier this week.
"Now my mother can't get in touch with my father ... Please can you help us to publicize my father's case on the Internet, so that at the very least they won't be able to do anything too bad to him," he said.
Fellow Guiyang-based activist Liao Shuangyuan said the apparent "loosening" of restrictions on public memorials for those who died in the 1989 crackdown has been an illusion.
"They were only loosening the reins so as to get a tighter grip on them," Liao said. "I heard that there were dozens of plainclothes police there at the time but that they didn't detain anyone."
"Now quite a few people have been detained, so maybe the powers that be gave the order to detain people."
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 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.
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.
The group, which has repeatedly called for a dialogue with Chinese officials on a reappraisal of the crackdown, and for victims' families to be allowed to pursue legal claims against the government, issued a statement on Thursday, saying the administration of president Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao had failed to deliver on promises of political reform.
"We think that there have been no new politics under Hu Jintao's administration, and that his political ideology has become more and more rigid," said Tiananmen Mothers founder Ding Zilin, whose 17-year-old son died in the bloodshed.
"They are cracking down tighter and tighter in the name of maintaining stability, and this has led to an intensification of social conflict, a widening gap between rich and poor," Ding said. "We are very upset by this."
The statement called on the government to overturn injustices left over from the June 4 crackdown and to make systemic changes to ensure that such a mass movement wouldn't happen again.
"As long as this group exists, we will continue to fight for the truth, for compensation, and for those responsible to be brought to justice," it said.
Meanwhile, the overseas-based rights website Jasmine Revolution, called on ordinary Chinese to wear black clothes and sunglasses between the early hours of June 4 and the following day, when most of the deaths are believed to have occurred.
Retired Nanjing University professor Sun Wenguang said he was optimistic that the government was in fact considering a reappraisal of the Tiananmen Square protests and the killings that followed.
"Older and middle-aged people all know that this was the oppression of a student movement," Sun said. "It totally destroyed China's reform process, and people have been wanting a reappraisal for a long time now."
"Now, it seems, there are people pushing for this behind the scenes in central government, so everyone is even more hopeful now," he said.
Meanwhile, a book of interviews with disgraced former Beijing mayor Chen Xitong went on sale in Hong Kong on Friday, in which he fights back against his popular image as a supporter of military intervention.
Chen, now on medical parole for cancer treatment, said in an interview with researcher Yao Jianfu that the Tiananmen crackdown should never have happened and that he hoped the government would formally re-evaluate the event.
"Chen said it was a tragedy that could have been avoided and that he hoped in his heart that the incident could have been resolved peacefully but in the end it wasn't," Yao told the Associated Press.
"I asked him how he felt as mayor at that time to see so many innocent civilians killed, and he said he felt very sorry," Yao said.
Yao said that Chen maintains that he dealt mostly with logistics, and that power over the capital's police and other security forces as well as the judiciary lay with Beijing's then-Communist Party boss Li Ximing.
Li, who died in 2008, and Chen were both credited with advocating the assault on the night of June 3-4, 1989 in the Tiananmen Papers, a compilation of purported internal documents on the crackdown published overseas in 2001.
Reported by Qiao Long and Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.