Authorities in China have detained a former political aide to the country’s late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, as well as two journalists from Hong Kong and a Chinese-Australian artist, as security is ratcheted up ahead of this week’s 25th anniversary of the June 4 crackdown on the 1989 student movement.
Bao Tong, 81, who had served under Zhao when he was removed from his post following a power struggle with ruling Chinese Communist Party hard-liners over the student movement, was picked up by public security personnel on Friday and taken to an unknown location, his son Bao Pu told RFA on Monday.
“[Bao Tong] has been taken away—I have no idea where he is and we are unable to contact him,” he said of his father, who had been living under house arrest in the capital Beijing for nearly two decades.
“In the past, the authorities would ask him to leave his house on or around June 1, but they usually wouldn’t make it compulsory. However, they took him away this year.”
Bao Pu said that his father had in the past been “invited” to travel to Jiangsu or Zhejiang province in southeastern China ahead of the anniversary as part of enforced “vacations” meant to keep him away from the capital, but that “this time we don’t know his whereabouts.”
He said that police had descended on his father’s home with no warning last week when they moved to detain him.
“They came all of a sudden, so I don’t know much about what happened,” he said.
Bao Tong’s wife, Jiang Zongcao, who is recovering from surgery, was not detained, Bao Pu said.
Though under house arrest, Chinese authorities have typically allowed foreign reporters to interview Bao at his home and it is believed he was detained to prevent him from speaking out about the 1989 crackdown ahead of the anniversary.
The 25th anniversary is significant for those who see the decision by late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping to send in troops as a turning point in Chinese history, when a more conciliatory approach espoused by reform-minded then-premier Zhao Ziyang might have led the country down a more democratic path.
Meanwhile, authorities in the southern city of Shenzhen posted a statement late on Friday on China’s Twitter-like service Weibo saying that “several” people, including two Hong Kong residents identified as journalists by a newspaper, had been arrested.
The Apple Daily, identified the men as Wang Jianmin and Guo Zhongxiao, and said they had worked for Hong Kong-based weekly Yazhou Zhoukan.
Also over the weekend, authorities detained Chinese-born Australian artist and former 1989 Tiananmen protester Guo Jian from his home in suburban Beijing following an article in the Financial Times profiling him ahead of the 25th anniversary of the crackdown, the Associated Press said in a report.
A former soldier, Guo had been studying art in Beijing when he joined the student protests and witnessed the military crackdown that began on the night of June 3, 1989.
Guo told an AP reporter as he was taken away by police that he would be held until June 15.
AP cited a statement issued by Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade saying it is seeking information on Guo's reported detention and is ready to provide him with consular assistance.
Chinese authorities have detained and questioned at least 50 activists and family members of victims of the 1989 military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square student-led pro-democracy movement in the run-up to Wednesday's anniversary, rights groups say.
Some are being held under criminal detention on public order charges, while many more are being held under temporary house arrest until after the anniversary, or being taken elsewhere in China by state security police.
A Beijing resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFA Monday that the atmosphere in the capital was increasingly “strict.”
“We just went out and there are police cars all over. On Chang'an Avenue [near Tiananmen Square] they were checking vehicles from out of town,” the resident said.
“Today, we had to go through a security scanner to get onto Tiananmen Square and there was a long line at the northeastern entrance. Then we had to go through a pedestrian underpass to get to the square.”
Wang Fan, the husband of prominent Tiananmen Mothers victims’ group member Zhang Xianling, said that despite the increased restrictions, the couple planned to pay their respects at their deceased son’s gravesite.
"We will definitely go. I haven't been in contact with the other relatives, but on the day, everyone will go together,” he said.
Wang said that local authorities would provide the family with a special bus to travel to their son’s grave.
“It suits us just fine. They are anxious, so we will just go on their bus,” he said, adding that police from each station with victims’ relatives living nearby would send a car for their transportation.
In the meantime, he said, their home remains under constant surveillance ahead of Wednesday’s anniversary.
“There are 12 people [watching our home] on rotation, six on each shift,” he said.
“They are stationed at the gate [of our residential complex] and outside the elevators.”
The number of people killed when 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 labeled the six weeks of pro-democracy protests a "counterrevolutionary uprising," has not issued an official toll or list of names.
The crackdown, which officials said in a news conference at the time was necessary 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 Tiananmen Mothers says it has confirmed 186 deaths, although not all at the hands of the army.
Reported by Zijun Shan for RFA’s Cantonese Service and Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated by Zijun Shan and Arthur Tang. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.