China Holds Two Activists Ahead of Tiananmen Massacre Anniversary

china-tankman2-052518.jpg U.S.-based cartoonist Badiucao portrays the Tank Man in a June 4, 2016 photo.
Photo courtesy of Badiucao

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong have detained two prominent dissidents on public order charges ahead of the politically sensitive anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, RFA has learned.

Democracy activists Li Hongwei and Yu Xinyong were taken away and placed under criminal detention on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" earlier this month, sources said.

"Yu Xinyong was taken away on the afternoon of May 15, because he has done a lot of work in the public interest," a friend of the activists who gave only her surname Sun told RFA.

"He was previously held under house arrest for about 20 days from Mar. 3 ... because he made a freedom of information request to his local neighborhood committee," she said. "The neighborhood committee didn't respond to his request; instead they put his name forward for administrative review."

Sun said Yu and Li's detention is likely linked to the anniversary of the June 4, 1989 military crackdown on the student-led pro-democracy movement centered on Tiananmen Square.

"They were locked up for a couple of days last June 3," she added.

Retired Shandong University professor Sun Wenguang said they had carried out a memorial activity in the Shandong provincial capital, Jinan, to mark the anniversary in 2013.

"The reason the police gave for detaining them in June 2013 was commemorating June 4, 1989," Sun told RFA. "They said they had video evidence and everything."

"I think they are just finding a charge to pin on them," he said.

Repeated calls to the Licheng branch of the Jinan police department rang unanswered during office hours on Thursday.

Memorials, discussions banned

The government styled the 1989 student-led democracy protests, sparked in April 1989 by the death of much-loved liberal premier Hu Yaobang, a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."

Public memorials and discussions of the events of June 1989 are banned, with activists who seek to commemorate the bloodshed often detained, and veteran dissidents placed under police surveillance or detention during each anniversary.

Victims' families are permitted to make private memorial ceremonies at the graves of the victims, usually under escort by the state security police.

Outside China, activities are less controlled, however, with U.S.-based cartoonist Badiucao calling on people to imitate the "Tank Man" hero of the 1989 protests on June 4 by standing on a chair in a public place, carrying grocery bags in a manner reminiscent of the famous news photo.

"This is an invitation for everyone who celebrates and defends universal human rights," the cartoonist said in a statement on his website.

"Tank Man has been a visual totem for protests of China since 1989," the statement said. "But it is also fading away due to brutal censorship and sophisticated propaganda from the Chinese government."

"The only way to keep it alive is to represent it creatively," Badiucao wrote, adding that Tank Women were also needed to represent the "significant role" of Chinese feminists in the struggle for human rights.

Participants are asked to download grocery bag designs including Winnie-the-Pooh and Peppa Pig, a sideways dig at the ruling Chinese Communist Party's censorship of the internet, and the "Rice Rabbit," a pun on the #MeToo anti-sexual abuse and harassment social media campaign.

Badiucao told RFA in a recent interview: "The image of the Tank Man has been around for 29 years now, but it has nearly been forgotten in China because of censorship. This year, we want to step up the performance art a bit, and link the image to contemporary struggles for human rights."

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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