Chinese authorities have detained or placed under close surveillance the relatives of those who died or were maimed in the military crackdown on student-led protests in Tiananmen Square ahead of the 25th anniversary of the tragic event next month, a spokeswoman for the families said Tuesday.
Ding Zilin, founder of the Tiananmen Mothers victims group, is currently being held at an unknown location outside Beijing, and is being prevented from returning to her home in the capital, group spokeswoman You Weijie told RFA.
You, 61, whose husband died from gunshot wounds sustained in the crackdown, said many more group members had been placed under tight security ahead of the sensitive anniversary of the June 4 bloodshed.
"This year, the controls placed on us are different from those in previous years," You said. "Ding isn't able to return to Beijing, and everyone we know with a [Tiananmen] connection is under house arrest."
"On the 25th anniversary, they want to silence us so we can't speak out, or hold any memorials," she said.
She said the group looked unlikely to be allowed to release its annual open letter on the anniversary, in which it typically calls on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to overturn the official verdict on the protests, investigate the crackdown, compensate families and pursue those responsible.
"Every year around June 4 we write an article to express our feelings, but it looks like we won't even be able to do that," You said.
Ding is currently being held under house arrest alongside her husband in the eastern Chinese city of Wuxi, meaning that they will be unable to pay their respects at their son's memorial in Beijing, she said.
"It is very unreasonable of them to do this; it's also wrong," You said. "In 25 years, we have had no response from the government; instead they rub salt on our wounds."
Marking the event
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia, who has launched an international "Remembering Tiananmen" event ahead of the anniversary, said he felt a historical duty to mark the incident.
"The most basic way of remembering Tiananmen is to wear black," Hu said. "If you are in Beijing, you can go to Muxidi, where the bloodshed was at its worst that year, or to Qianmen," he said, referring to the southern end of the closely guarded square, where access is less restricted.
"A third option is to go to Tiananmen Square itself, take a photo, and post it online," said Hu.
He said he has been warned off wearing black or visiting the area himself by the authorities, on pain of arrest on charges of "incitement to subvert state power."
"Those who can manage it will wear black and go to Tiananmen on the evening of June 3 and hold a candlelight vigil and hunger strike until ... June 4," Hu said.
Since 1989, Chinese authorities have suppressed any public efforts to commemorate victims of the crackdown, in which the People's Liberation Army (PLA) used machine guns and tanks against civilians, and to clear the square of hunger-striking students who had been encamped there for weeks amid swelling popular support.
Beijing's censors are also quick to clamp down on any online reference to the crackdown, and keywords linked to the incident typically return no search results on China's tightly controlled Internet.
Police have detained and questioned dozens of activists, intellectuals and family members of victims after some gathered at a seminar to mark the sensitive 25th anniversary and to call for an official reappraisal of the protests.
Some 20 rights activists, lawyers, academics, and family members of victims attended a May 3 seminar in Beijing, where they called for a public inquiry into the crackdown on unarmed civilians by the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
Some of those questioned were subsequently released, but Pu Zhiqiang and four other activists—online writer Liu Di, social scientist Xu Youyu, house church leader and democracy activist Hu Shigen, and Beijing Film Academy professor Hao Jian—were formally detained on public order charges.
On Friday, prominent rights lawyer Tang Jingling was also detained on charges of "causing a disturbance," while Wuhan-based veteran opposition party activist Qin Yongmin was taken from his home on Sunday.
Ma Gangquan, lawyer for writer Liu Di, said her case was apparently stalled after she refused to sign a guarantee of good behavior or to admit her guilt.
"She wouldn't admit her guilt, nor sign an agreement saying she wouldn't post any opinions online," Ma told RFA on Tuesday. "She told them she would promise not to commit any crimes."
He said police had treated her well during questioning, however.
According to Ma, Liu had said little at the seminar, other than to advocate non-violent means of protest and opposition.
"She said some stuff ... about how citizens should use rational, non-violent means in their activism," Ma said. "She said nothing about June 4."
China's leadership has ignored growing calls for a reappraisal of the 1989 student protests, which the party styled a "counterrevolutionary rebellion," saying the crackdown was necessary to suppress it.
The death toll from the night of June 3-4, 1989, when PLA tanks and troops entered Beijing, clashing with civilians armed with petrol bombs, rocks and other makeshift weapons, remains unknown to this day.
While the Chinese government once put the death toll at "nearly 300," it has never issued an official toll or list of names.
For several years afterwards, China was under international economic and diplomatic sanctions, while Western governments offered asylum to dozens of student leaders who fled the country.
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.