The relatives of those killed when China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) put a bloody end to weeks of student-led democracy protests on Beijing's Tiananmen Square 29 years ago have called on Chinese President Xi Jinping to compensate them and to pursue those responsible.
The Tiananmen Mothers victims group penned the letter to mark Monday's anniversary, calling the massacre a "crime against humanity" and calling on the government to make public all information relating to the bloodshed, which is currently described by the ruling Chinese Communist Party as a necessary end to a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."
"In the turbulent summer of 1989 ... the authorities sent in more than 100,000 fully armed and battle-ready troops to slaughter unarmed students and civilians in a massacre that was supposed to preserve national stability," the letter said.
"This was a crime against humanity that seriously damaged our reputation as a nation."
The group is fast dwindling: 51 of its members have died "without seeing justice," while the rest are battling growing ill-health in their seventies and eighties, the letter said.
"In the space of a single night, our loved ones all died along the length of Chang'an Boulevard, bringing untold pain and suffering that would last for the rest of our lives," the relatives wrote. "The June
4 tragedy is history now, but this disaster remains unresolved, and its wounds have yet to heal."
In 29 years of campaigning for three demands—a full revelation of any officially held information on the crackdown; compensation for the loved ones of those killed or maimed; and the pursuit of those responsible—the Tiananmen Mothers have yet to receive a single official response.
"During the past 29 years that this government has been in power, not one person has enquired after us, nor has anyone apologized," the letter said. "It's as if this massacre that shocked the whole world never even happened."
While the group is routinely ignored when it calls for a reappraisal of the massacre, its members are also routinely subjected to monitoring, surveillance, and enforced, out-of-town "vacations" with state security police on dates considered politically sensitive.
"It seems that this hugely powerful dictatorship of the proletariat is afraid of a vulnerable group of sick and elderly people," the letter commented wryly.
The letter also makes a personal appeal to Xi, who was voted into a second, unlimited term in office by the National People's Congress (NPC) in March.
"In your six years in power, you have traveled the length and breadth of our country, witnessing the difficulties of its people, and fully expressing your concern for this country," it said.
"As the leader of a major country, you can't not care about the Tiananmen massacre that happened 29 years ago. Surely you must care about the people who were its victims."
It added: "We demand that the government talk to us as soon as possible; there is not a moment to lose. We are in our twilight years. We still hope to see the day when justice is done for our loved ones."
Tiananmen Mothers spokeswoman You Weijie said she hopes the letter will have an effect.
"All of the families of the victims hope that it will have an effect; otherwise we wouldn't have written it," she said. "We don't want to wait any longer; it's been 29 years now."
"The government bears a huge responsibility for this tragedy ... and now is the time to resolve it."
Suppressing the truth
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) also called on the Chinese government to "acknowledge and take responsibility for the massacre of pro-democracy protesters."
Authorities should immediately release activists held for commemorating the occasion, and cease censoring discussions of the bloody crackdown, HRW said in a statement on its website.
“Twenty-nine years after the Tiananmen Massacre, President Xi Jinping’s ‘China dream’ means getting the world to forget about it," HRW China director Sophie Richardson said.
"But suppressing the truth has only fueled demands for justice and accountability."
HRW said the government has covered up the killings, failed to bring the perpetrators to justice, and persecuted the relatives of victims.
"Under President Xi Jinping, the government has further retreated from the democratic ideals the protesters advocated and is aggressively tightening ideological control, attacking civil society groups, and imprisoning rights activists," HRW said.
A meaningful gesture
The overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, which compiles rights reports from groups inside China, called on the government to release Liu Xia, widow of late Nobel Peace Prize winner and political prisoner Liu Xiaobo, as a gesture of reconciliation.
"Freedom for Liu Xia can be a meaningful gesture by the Chinese government to work toward reconciliation for atrocities committed against civilians in the spring of 1989, and also be a way to honor Liu Xiaobo’s legacy," the group said in a statement on its website.
"Liu Xiaobo was a significant voice of moderation and support for the protesters on Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989," it said.
Many activists who have demanded justice for victims of the Tiananmen massacre have themselves been jailed, it said.
"Today, several 1989 pro-democracy protesters and activists who have long demanded justice for June 4th are in detention centers or prisons in China, suffering from serious medical conditions without getting adequate treatment," CHRD said.
"These individuals include Chen Wei, Chen Xi, Chen Yunfei, Li Xiaoling, Lu Gengsong, Qin Yongmin, and Tang Jingling," it said.
Numbers still unclear
Beijing 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.
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.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.