Democracy Activists Questioned For Trying to Visit Grave of Mao-Era Dissident

2019-04-29
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Flowers left by activists are shown at the grave of Lin Zhao in Suzhou, China, April 29, 2018.
Flowers left by activists are shown at the grave of Lin Zhao in Suzhou, China, April 29, 2018.
Minsheng Observers Website

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu detained two activists who tried to visit the grave of a political dissident executed during the Mao era on the anniversary of her death on Monday.

However, they allowed some mourners to visit the grave briefly. Meanwhile, a veteran dissident detained at last year's anniversary remains in detention on public order charges.

One group of activists from Shanghai succeeded in arriving at the grave of Lin Zhao at the Lingyan Shan hillside cemetery on the outskirts of Jiangsu's Suzhou city, participant Zhu Jin'an told RFA.

Police were guarding the site, but allowed the group to remain for a brief period without detaining them, Zhu Jin'an said.

"We weren't allowed to take photos," he said. "We only stayed a few minutes, then they came and told us to leave, without giving any reason."

However, police stopped would-be mourner Tan Binglin and his friend as they tried to leave the Suzhou Railway Station ticket barrier after traveling there from the central province of Hunan, Tan said.

"The police intercepted us before we had even gotten as far as the ticket barrier," Tan told RFA. "They specifically pulled both of us over, and told us that they knew what we had come for, that we had come to commemorate Lin Zhao."

"They took us to the police station and said that they wanted to understand our motivation," he said.

Tan said he and his friend were forcibly escorted back to their hometowns after questioning.

"They are afraid of free thinking, and afraid of people who want freedom and democracy," he said. "They know very well that [Lin] was also someone who fought for freedom, and that she was persecuted to death for it."

Executed writer

Lin Zhao, whose birth name was Peng Lingzhao, has long been a poignant symbol for Chinese dissidents and democracy activists, but she has since also become a focal point for the country's army of petitioners, ordinary people who pursue complaints against the ruling Chinese Communist Party through official channels.

A writer who grew up near Nanjing, in the eastern province of Jiangsu, Lin was a star student at the prestigious Beijing University's Chinese language department in the 1950s before being branded a "rightist" and a "class enemy" in 1957 for her criticism of then-supreme leader Mao Zedong's Anti-Rightist Movement targeting intellectuals.

She was executed by firing squad at Shanghai's Longhua Airport in 1968 at the age of 36 after her sentence was changed to the death penalty because she refused to plead guilty.

Last year, on the 50th anniversary of her death, police detained veteran democracy activist Zhu Chengzhi as he tried to visit her grave.

Zhu has been incommunicado since Apr. 29, 2018, when he was taken away from the Lingyan Shan cemetery by police.

Suzhou authorities issued notification of Zhu's formal arrest to family members last November, stating that he was formally arrested on Nov. 12 on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."

He was initially held in the Suzhou No. 1 Detention Center, but his current whereabouts are unknown, according to Hunan rights activist Chen Siming.

"He used to be in the first detention center in Suzhou, but he was transferred to a different detention center, so he's not there any more," Chen told RFA. "He hasn't been allowed visits from his family or from a lawyer. We don't know where he's been sent."

Release unlikely


Chen said he isn't optimistic that Zhu will be released anytime soon.

"If he has been held in a detention center for such a long time, he is unlikely to be released without charge," Chen said. "[They are more likely to] hold him for two or three years of pretrial detention, then hand him a jail term of three or four years."

He said he believes Zhu wasn't released like the other activists last year because he refused to promise not to commemorate Lin Zhao in future.

"He looks pretty unassuming, but he is very strong-minded and determined," Chen said. "If he has set his mind on something, he certainly won't make concessions to anyone; he will stick to his principles."

Chen said there was nothing criminal in commemorating Lin Zhao. "Why won't they let people lay wreaths?" he said.

An officer who answered the phone at the Suzhou municipal police department declined to comment.

"Why don't I just put you through to the press office, so you can talk to them," the officer said.

However, the call to the press office rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.

Zhu became one of China's most prominent rights activists after he spoke out about the death in police custody of labor rights activist Li Wangyang in 2013, and had previously been held on suspicion of subversion after he questioned the official verdict of suicide in Li's death.

A Chinese police investigation into Li's death in June 2013 upheld an earlier verdict of suicide, despite widespread public doubts about the claim that the severely disabled 62-year-old hanged himself.

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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