Chinese authorities have revoked visas issued to an exiled veteran of the 1989 pro-democracy movement on Beijing's Tiananmen Square and his family, just hours after they were issued, RFA has learned.
Veteran democracy activist Fang Zheng, now a U.S. citizen, had applied to return to China following his father's death, and had been issued with a visa along with his two daughters.
Fang's father died suddenly on Feb. 3 during the Lunar New Year festival, and the family had hoped to hurry back to China to attend the funeral.
But they received a call from the Chinese consulate in San Francisco not three hours after receiving their visas, informing them that they had been canceled. No reason was given, Fang said.
"I picked up the three visas at around 11.00 a.m., for me and my daughters, and then we drove back from San Francisco, arriving home at around 2.00 p.m.," he said.
"Suddenly, we got a phone call from someone saying they were a representative of the Chinese consulate calling to formally notify us that mine and my daughters' visas had been revoked," he said.
"He said ... you won't be able to travel back to China on those visas," Fang said. "I asked him what was going on, but he gave no reason; just said it was to do with national sovereignty, and that there was nothing to discuss, and that he wasn't obliged to explain."
"He said 'We can issue a refund for the fees directly to your card; I'm just letting you know,'" Fang added.
Guilt by association
Fang said he saw no reason to prevent his daughters from traveling back to China, as they had never done anything to anger the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"It's guilt by association," he said. "They are total thugs. This is unacceptable."
"They stop one lot of [their citizens] from leaving, and another lot from returning," Fang said. "They create obstacles everywhere."
Repeated calls to the San Francisco Chinese consulate's visa section, political section, publicity department, and office of Consul Wang Donghua rang unanswered during office hours on Friday.
The denial of Fang's visas comes as democracy activists mark the 30th year after the bloody military crackdown on weeks of student-led protests on Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Fellow 1989 veteran activist Zhou Fengsuo, who heads the rights group Humanitarian China, said Fang is associated in the party's mind with the iconic "Tank Man" photograph.
Fang was an eyewitness to the standoff between an unarmed civilian in shirt-sleeves carrying shopping and a column of People's Liberation Army (PLA) tanks advancing down Beijing's Chang'an Boulevard, that was beamed onto TV broadcasts and newspaper front pages around the world.
"Fang Zheng represents the truth of what happened on June 4, 1989; [in a sense], he is the real "Tank Man" because he has never given up the struggle in all these years," Zhou said.
"Fang Zheng is the best representative we have of the 1989 democracy movement, so of course the Communist Party is afraid of him."
"It's the 30th anniversary this year, and they are afraid to allow Fang Zheng to go back to China," he said. "This is a violent and barbarous regime with no rule of law, and there are a lot things they are afraid to face up to, like the Tiananmen Massacre."
A testing time
Zhou said the 30th anniversary of the ending of the Tiananmen protests by the PLA, using live machine-gun fire and tanks, would be a testing time for those veterans now in exile, many of whom have never been allowed to return to visit loved ones.
"It's very hard to bear, 30 years apart from your loved ones," Zhou said. But he added: "It's kind of a badge of honor to have been blacklisted from returning to China by the Chinese Communist Party."
"It means they have stuck to their stance, and that this was the right thing to do," he said.
The death toll from the night of June 3-4, 1989, when PLA tanks and troops entered Beijing, opening fire on unarmed civilians, remains unknown to this day.
While the Chinese government once put the death toll at "nearly 300," it has never issued an official toll or list of names.
A 2009 map published by the Tiananmen Mothers victims group listed more than 250 names garnered from confirmed eyewitness accounts and hospital records of those known to have died in the days after June 3.
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.