Mourning Banned for Tiananmen Dead

Nineteen years after Chinese troops fired on protesters in and around Tiananmen Square, a prominent Beijing lawyer says police grabbed him as he left his office to commemorate the 1989 crackdown.

2008.06.04
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TiananmenSquare060308-305.jpg BEIJING: Chinese security forces check tourists' bags as they enter Tiananmen Square, June 3, 2008. Just 66 days ahead of the Beijing Olympics, security is tight ahead of the 19th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 crackdown that left hundreds, possibly thousands, dead.
AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON

HONG KONG—A prominent Chinese lawyer, known for his defense of political prisoners and those seeking to defend their rights against the state, says police grabbed him as he left his office and hustled him home to prevent him from marking the June 4, 1989 crackdown with a visit to Tiananmen Square.

Meanwhile, dissidents and relatives of those killed called for public events to remember the dead, amid a background of national mourning for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake on May 12.

"Late on June 2,” Beijing lawyer Pu Zhiqiang said, "a policeman by the name of Zhang Yang telephoned me and said he’d like to talk to me. I told him that there was nothing for us to talk about because we are not exactly friends."

On the morning of June 3, a police officer with whom Pu said he was on good terms accompanied him to his office.

Pu, who has garnered international media attention by taking on high-profile cases, said he visits Tiananmen Square in the evening every June 3 to mark the anniversary of the Chinese military crackdown that began there in 1989 after months of student-led protests against corruption and for democracy.

Police escort

“Last year I visited the Square under police escort. As we were leaving the Square, the policemen on duty at the Square felt that they had to take control and took me to the Tiananmen branch station.  This year I was not even allowed to go,” Pu said.

“What I learned today is that on the subject of Tiananmen, the authorities are still acting as if they were closely guarding a secret.”

Pu said that as Tuesday evening approached, he began negotiating, and asked to be allowed to visit Tiananmen Square.

"But my request was denied, including my proposal that I be allowed to sit in the car while being driven around the Square," he said.

“Around 8:30 p.m., I left my office. When I got down to the garage I discovered that they were waiting for me there. My car was boxed in by three of their cars. There were about 10 of them. Several policemen grabbed me, pushed me into one of their cars, and drove me home."

Veiled threat

The officers, he said, asked if he knew jailed activist Hu Jia and lawyer Gao Zhisheng, whose law license was revoked after he criticized the government’s heavy-handed treatment of the banned Falun Gong movement. “Their message was unmistakable,” he said.

“Both Gao and Hu have been ‘handled’ by the authorities. They said I should think more about my family. ‘You are a wise man,’ they said. I said, 'I am not a wise man.' The bottom line is, they did not want me to go to Tiananmen Square.”

Beijing-based academic Ding Zilin is a leading activist in the group known as "Tiananmen Mothers." For her, the anniversary of the crackdown, which Beijing still styles a legitimate suppression of a counterrevolutionary rebellion, is a time of mounting grief with no public outlet.

"As we age, our grief keeps increasing, missing our son," said Ding, whose 17-year-old son Jiang Jielian was killed when the People's Liberation Army put down the student-led pro-democracy movement with tanks and machine guns.

"Our request is simple: dialogue," Ding said. "We want a timetable for the solution of the problem. When? Should we wait until the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen, or the 30th? We don’t expect this problem to be solved in one morning, but we want the dialogue to start now."

Ding called for the words "One Human Rights" to be added to the official slogan of this year's Beijing-hosted Olympic Games: "One World, One Dream."

Candlelight vigil

"The relay of the Olympic flame should be a relay for the respect and love of life," she said. "Therefore, we hope that no matter whether the deaths were caused by natural or human disasters, they should be respected in the same way."

"I firmly believe there must come a day when the national flag will fly at half-mast for our dead loved ones," Ding said.

Meanwhile, dissidents in the southern Chinese city of Taizhou called on individuals to hold a ceremony of candle lighting in their own homes to express condolences for victims of the crackdown.

"We will light a candle at our own home on the eve of June 4 until midnight of that day. This will be a voice to symbolize that we have not yet forgotten Tiananmen," activist Wu Gaoxing said.

"Though the Chinese people are currently under strong political pressure, there are many of them who cannot forget June 4. Faced with that harsh reality, we don’t want to hold activities in public places, because they will be disrupted by the authorities."

"However, we can commemorate the day by paying silent tribute to the victims at home," Wu said, estimating that about 100 people had agreed to participate. Activists said police appeared not to be interfering, presumably because the event wasn"t occurring in public.

Change in attitude

Wang Dan, one of the main student leaders of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, said he had noticed a subtle change in the attitude of the Chinese leadership to the crackdown.

"A few years ago their strategy was to wipe the event from people's memories. Now they are more likely to make sure that people go online and defend it when it is brought up, instead of trying to prevent people from talking about it at all," Wang told a listener call-in show broadcast by RFA's Mandarin service.

He called for a spirit of reconciliation if China was to develop democratically.

"While it is very important to respect the suffering of the families who lost loved ones in the Tiananmen Square incident, it is also very important if we consider ourselves an opposition force in politics, to let go of hatred. This is very important for the political development of the country, while at the same time respecting the strong feelings of those who lost relatives," Wang said.

One caller responded: "It has been 19 years since the Tiananmen incident...I don't think there has been any advance in China's level of freedom and democracy. If anything, there has been a regression."

Wang said another event similar to the Tiananmen crackdown was highly likely in China, if the ruling Communist Party failed to ease current injustices as China's economy developed.

Independent probe

Chinese rights activists estimate that eight Beijing residents remain jailed solely because of their involvement in the Tiananmen protests 19 years ago.

According to the China Rights Defenders' Web site, they are Wu Chunqi, Chang Jingqiang, Li Zhixin, Shi Xuezhi, Miao Deshun, Zhu Gengsheng, Li Yujun, and Yang Pu. Most are currently serving life sentences in Beijing's No. 2 Prison.

"It is extremely hard to ferret out the statistics of the number of current Tiananmen prisoners. There is no way to do this," independent investigator Liu Yiming said. "The only thing you can do is find these things out through direct contact with people who are familiar with these cases or from the prisoners in person."

"You put all the data together then you can conclude how many are still in jail. Most of these prisoners are not students but workers," Liu said. "Their crimes were described back in 1989 as 'counterrevolutionary,' a charge seldom seen today, when dissidents are more likely to be accused of 'subverting state power' or 'endangering national security.'"

According to the Hong Kong Democratic Information Center, the late Chinese President Yang Shangkun once revealed that the death toll of June 4 was more than 600. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, are believed to have been killed on June 4 and in the days of martial law that followed, but no official toll has ever been issued.

Web site closed

The Tiananmen Mothers recently published two sketch maps showing the places of death of some victims, and hospitals to which they were taken. The Web site was closed by Beijing's Internet police just a few hours after it was launched.

"The maps show separately who was shot where and when he or she died, and in which hospital. We use this method to mark the anniversary and remind people to remember this tragedy," she said.

Another Tiananmen Mothers activist, Zhang Xianling, said the group had started the process of collecting information on Tiananmen victims soon after the event.

"We got most of the information between 1992-94. Since then, it has been difficult to investigate. On our sketch maps we listed 188 victims, and 71 of them were students," Zhang said.

Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, condemned the blocking of the Tiananmen Mothers’ Web site. "This completely conflicts with China’s promises of press freedom in applying for hosting the Olympics," she said.

Original reporting in Mandarin by He Ping, Shen Hua, Xin Yu, Fang Yuan and Han Qing. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Chen Ping. Written and produced in English by Luisetta Mudie and Sarah Jackson-Han.

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