Artists Held Over Tiananmen Installation

The activists had wanted to convey a message through art at the controversial Tiananmen Square.

china-tiananmen-23-305.gif A Chinese paramilitary policeman stands guard beside the Monument to the People’s Heroes at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, June 4, 2012.

Police in the Chinese capital are holding two artists under suspected administrative detention after they tried to set up an art installation marking the 23rd anniversary of the June 4 military crackdown on student protests—on Tiananmen Square itself.

Hua Yong and Guo Zhenming have been incommunicado since before Tuesday's anniversary, according to fellow artist Zhui Hun.

"I can't get in touch with them," Zhui Hun said. "I went to visit them on June 4 and I gave them some food and cigarettes. The next day I went again to see them, but the police at the police station told me that it was none of my business."

"I knew then that they probably had proceedings taken against them."

Asked if Hua and Guo's detention was linked to their June 4 art installation, Zhui Hun replied: "Definitely. It was mainly the work and the method they used."

Hua is no stranger to artistic activism. Last year, he and three friends also attempted an art installation on Tianamen Square to mark the 22nd anniversary of the crackdown.

At the time, he told RFA that he had given himself a bloody nose and used the blood to write the numbers "6,4" on the paving stones, denoting the date, June 4.

He was soon stopped by plainclothes police, who are stationed all around the politically sensitive Square, who confiscated his photographs and video of the event.

Hua said in an interview at the time that he didn't fear arrest, because he wanted to honor the souls of those who died in the bloodshed.

Forced to reckon

Zhui Hun said he believes the ruling Chinese Communist Party will be forced to reckon with the incident, which is banned from official media and Internet postings, sooner or later.

"The June 4 incident will have to be spoken about openly in the end," he said. "They can't suppress it forever, because we must always reflect on history."

An officer who answered the phone at the Songzhuang police station in Beijing's Tongzhou county said that suspects who are held for more than two days could be regarded as formally detained.

But he said Hua and Guo's cases weren't being handled by his station.

"It isn't being handled by us here," the officer said. Asked when the artists would be released, he said: "I don't know."

In recent days, Chinese authorities have rounded up dozens of activists who staged, or tried to stage, public events linked to Tuesday's anniversary.

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.

Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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