Chinese Dissidents Under House Arrest During Anniversary of Premier's Death

2018-04-17
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Police cars gather outside the Beijing apartment of dissident He Depu, April 12, 2018.
Police cars gather outside the Beijing apartment of dissident He Depu, April 12, 2018.
He Depu Twitter Account

Authorities in the Chinese capital placed a number of dissidents under house arrest over the weekend, which saw the anniversary of the death of liberal premier Hu Yaobang, which triggered a mass outpouring of grief and the student-led democracy movement on Tiananmen Square in 1989.

While Hu's family members were permitted to visit his grave in the eastern province of Jiangxi, security restrictions ensured that no well-wishers visited his former residence in Beijing, which was closed and under close police guard on Sunday's anniversary.

Hu was ousted from the top job as general secretary of the ruling Chinese Communist Party amid accusations of "bourgeois liberalism" in his handling of earlier student protests on Tiananmen Square, in 1987.

His death of a heart attack in 1989 prompted a massive public outpouring of grief on Tiananmen Square, sparking several weeks of student-led pro-democracy protests and hunger strikes that were later ended amid a bloody military crackdown by the People's Liberation Army on the night of June 3 that year.

Qi Zhiyong, whose legs were crushed by an armored vehicle during the crackdown, said he was among those place under house arrest at the weekend.

"The events that took place in the run-up to the Tiananmen massacre are pretty sensitive, and security is rather tight," Qi told RFA. "They have to send people round and place me under 24-hour surveillance."

"There's a police car at my gate. The guy driving it is in uniform, and the state security police are in plain clothes," he said. "I have no way of losing them, and they have to send someone, so there's a record."

Under surveillance

Veteran democracy activist He Depu said he has been under surveillance since last week, and warned not to go to Tiananmen Square or any other "sensitive" location such as a government department.

"The police said they don't know what's going on; they're only doing their jobs, and they have to do them properly," He told RFA. "There is one police car, and they are sitting in it. There are eyes on me the whole time."

"It's probably linked to [Hu Yaobang's anniversary] I expect," he said. "The monitoring of dissidents and rights activists has been much tighter than in previous years."

Beijing rights activist Hu Jia said the authorities are likely gearing up to ensure that as little happens as possible ahead of next year's 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.

"They also want to shut down public opinion [on the topic] overseas," Hu said. "As for right now, I think they have already started in with these measures, in preparation for next year."

Family visits graves

The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and the Democracy Movement in China said around 10 family members, including Hu's son Hu Deping and daughter Li Heng, visited the graves of Hu and his wife Li Zhao at the Yaobang Cemetery on Sunday.

A source close to the family told RFA that he hadn't attended the activity, but had forwarded essays to his WeChat circle in commemoration of the late premier.

“There aren’t any big events going on right now, just a lot of commemorative items on people's friend groups," the source said, confirming that the family had been to Hu's grave in Jiangxi.

The Communist Party currently bans public memorials marking the June 4 massacre, and has continued to ignore growing calls in China and from overseas for a reappraisal of the 1989 student protests, which it once styled a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."

The number of people killed when People's Liberation Army 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 has never issued an official toll or list of names, in spite of repeated calls by the Tiananmen Mothers victims' group.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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