Call For Democracy Rises Again 22 Years After Tiananmen

Amnesty activists in Italy hold signs that say "This is my Tiananmen Square." A similar commemoration would be prohibited in China.

When the so-called Arab Spring swept the Middle East and North Africa, the reverberations also shuddered through Chinese civil society – first as a new wave of online activism, and then as crushing oppression from the Chinese state.

When dissidents began calling for China to stage its own “Jasmine Revolution,” the authorities responded with overwhelming force. Since February the Chinese government has targeted more than 100 activists and human rights defenders.

The weight of such overt oppression — the worst since the 2009’s deadly Urumqi riots — is made particularly acute by the 22nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy activists. Although more than two decades have passed since the 1989 protests, the Chinese authorities are quick to extinguish any forms of commemoration, and to silence voices of discontent raised around the politically volatile anniversary.

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Tiananmen Square: 21 Years Later Still No Justice or Freedom

Twenty-one years after the massacre in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 3rd and 4th, 1989 – which killed scores of students and peaceful protesters – justice still has yet to be served for its victims, and citizens of China are still being denied their rights to freedom of expression. Any sort of commemoration and criticism of the events are strictly prohibited by Chinese authorities, as they continue to accuse citizens of “inciting subversion,” and imposing lengthy imprisonment after unfair trials. Human rights defenders in China know these obstacles all too well, and continue to risk severe punishment – especially around this time every year.

 Commemorative activities organized by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China (The Alliance) were brought to an abrupt halt by police on May 29th and 30th.

Three girls stand in Tiananmen Square on a day of rememberence of the 1989 event

Three girls stand in Tiananmen Square on a day of rememberence of the 1989 event

The organizers had followed procedures for regulating public assemblies, but the police claimed additional ‘entertainment’ licenses were required, confiscated exhibits including two statues of the Goddess of Democracy and arrested 15 people.

Amnesty released a public statement commemorating today’s anniversary, in which we condemned the Chinese authorities’ efforts to cover up the massacre and bring those responsible into investigation.  Furthermore, we continue to urge the Chinese government to stop suppressing citizens who exercise their fundamental rights to freedom of expression.

One such case where the government’s crackdown on free expression has been apparent is that of Shi Tao, a journalist and poet based in Hunan province. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2005 for his email communications about the 1989 massacre.  After using his Yahoo! email account to send pro-democracy messages to foreign websites, he was charged with “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities”.

Internet company Yahoo! disclosed the contents of Shi Tao’s personal email messages where he summarized a Chinese Central Propaganda Department communiqué on how journalists should handle the 15th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown.  The company’s role in turning over this information was key evidence leading to Shi Tao’s conviction.

Shi Tao, and countless other individuals, are still imprisoned for their communications about the 1989 crackdown. And after 21 years of suppressing Chinese expression, it’s painfully clear that justice and freedom are long over-due.

Tiananmen 20th Anniversary Coming Up

© 1989 Hei Han Khiang

© 1989 Hei Han Khiang

As I’m sure many of you know, June 3-4, 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of the 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

Two decades after the crackdown, about 50 people who were involved in the demonstrations are believed to remain in prison. The Chinese authorities continue to refuse to carry out an open, independent and impartial inquiry into the events of 1989, and no one has been brought to justice for their role in the crackdown. Attempts to mark the anniversary of the crackdown have been suppressed, and public debate or discussion of the events is banned.

This Thursday, Amnesty International is co-sponsoring an event on Capitol Hill to commemorate the 20th anniversary. Speakers will include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as survivors of the Tiananmen crackdown and other prominent faith, government and human rights leaders, as well as Amnesty’s own T. Kumar.

If you’re not in the DC area, there are lots of other events happening around the country and around the world this week. Get involvedkeep the memory of Tiananmen alive!

Human rights advocate faces trial in China on eve of UN review

The New York Times reported yesterday that human rights activist Huang Qi was charged with illegal possession of state secrets. Huang was detained by plainclothes police last June after assisting the families of five primary school students who died in the earthquake in Sichuan, China last May. (The families believe local authorities are responsible for the poor construction of public buildings that collapsed and Huang was going to help them to bring a lawsuit.)

Huang Qi is considered the first webmaster in China to be sent to prison. In 1998, he set up the website www.64tianwang.com to help family members locate missing relatives who disappeared after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest. The website later included content about the plights of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang and the Falun Gong spiritual movement. Huang was detained, charged with “incitement of subversion”, tried in secret in August 2001 and imprisoned until June 2005. According to the court verdict, the prosecution’s evidence included reference to Huang’s posting of the Amnesty International report, The People’s Republic of China: Tiananmen – Eleven Years on (May 2000).

Huang Qi was not deterred by his time in prison – he returned to human rights advocacy after his release in 2005. But, this time around, his freedom was taken away before he could bring justice to the families who lost their children in the earthquake.

Internet censorship has become an all-too-common tool for government authorities to stop dissent and punish dissenters. China is about to face its first Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations Human Rights Council next Monday. The Council should be diligent in clearly documenting cases of suppression of dissent, like that of Huang Qi, in assessing China’s record on freedom of expression.