Veteran Tiananmen Democracy Movement Leader Released in China's Guangxi

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Tiananmen protest veteran Zhou Yongjun is shown in an undated photo.
Twitter / Zhou Yongjun

A former leader of the 1989 student-led democracy movement in China has been released at the end of a prison sentence for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" in the southwestern Chinese region of Guangxi, RFA has learned.

Zhou Yongjun was initially detained in August 2018 in Guangxi's Dongxing city, near the border with Vietnam.

He was initially indicted for "incitement to subvert state power" and was sentenced to one year and two months' imprisonment by a court in Fangchenggang city.

He was released at the end of that jail term on Saturday afternoon and left the Guangxi Dongxing Detention Center in the company of his sister.

Zhou told RFA on Tuesday that the charges against him were trumped up.

"Under the system we have in mainland China, once you have been indicted, they are sure to find some crime to sentence you with," Zhou said. "There is no such thing as fairness."

"My political background must have had a lot to do with it, and the authorities have now finally found a way to use Twitter [to bring charges], so they were always going to find a way to charge me," he said.

Zhou said he had signed a "confession" earlier this year because of pressure on his family, and had dropped plans to appeal the sentence on release, for fear of further loss of freedom when his formal sentence ended.

"I had originally planned to appeal under a new procedural law ... and I made a good job of the appeal document," he said. "But I don't dare use it."

'Too old to fight'

Zhou, 52, suffers from various diseases including lumbar spondylosis, said he now feels too old to fight the authorities, and hopes to spend time resting in his hometown, the Sichuan provincial capital Chengdu.

"I am old, after more than 30 years of this, which is all connected to my history," Zhou said. "I have grey hair and all kinds of illness: I am physically and mentally exhausted."

"I need to seek medical treatment, which may mean a lot of visits to the doctor ... for the spinal problem, the rheumatism and the gout," he said. "I have lost a few teeth, too."

He said he has no plans for further activism.

"I have nothing and nobody now," he said. "I have a kid but I can't go back there and visit him."

Zhou was a prominent figure on Tiananmen Square in 1989, and was photographed by international media kneeling on the steps of the Great Hall of the People in a plea for China’s communist leaders to heed student calls for political reforms.

He was arrested and jailed for two years in the subsequent crackdown on student protesters in June 1989, losing his university place and his Beijing "hukou," or residence permit.

Zhou fled to Hong Kong and then traveled to the United States in 1993, living in New York City and Los Angeles.

Tortured in detention

He was detained again in 2009 for using a false passport to visit his ageing relatives after the Chinese consulate refused to renew his passport and was imprisoned on a fraud charge.

His lawyers said Zhou was tortured in detention and denied family visits.

Zhou had also tried to visit China once before in December 1998 but was arrested in Shenzhen and spent more than two years in a labor camp.

He hit out at the Hong Kong authorities for handing him over to the Chinese police in Shenzhen.

"The way things worked at the time, they [should have let me] come back into Hong Kong the same way, but they wouldn't let me in," he said.

"They said they were releasing me, but it was the middle of the night, and they smuggled me across the border into Shenzhen, straight into the hands of my persecutors."

"There was no basis for this kind of [cross-border] transfer in Hong Kong law," he said.

Long-running practices

He said he could well understand why plans to allow extradition to mainland China had triggered months of angry mass protest in Hong Kong since early June.

"That the demonstrations have been going on for this long is already explanation enough," Zhou said. "The [planned amendments to extradition laws] were simply a clear affirmation of long-running existing practices."

"I think it's damaging to the independence of Hong Kong's judiciary," he said.

Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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