People's Republic of China: Fear of mass arrests and use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators
EXTERNAL (for general distribution) Al Index: ASA 17/20/89
UA 144/89 Fear of Mass Arrests 24 May 1989
PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA: Fear of mass arrests and use of lethal
force against peaceful demonstrators
Following the imposition of martial law in the Chinese capital, Beijing, on 19 May, large-scale
demonstrations by students, workers and residents are continuing in the capital and other major
cities. The troops called in to enforce martial law in Beijing have not yet intervened to disperse
demonstrators and remain based in the outskirts of the capital. However, there are reports of
large troop movements in Chinas provinces, and more troops are said to have been sent to
Beijing. Chinas state television announced on 22 May that the city of Wuhan in central China
had been placed under military control. This was apparently imposed after students began a sit—
in at one end of a strategic bridge over the Yangtze river on 16 May, bringing traffic to a
standstill. Large scale peaceful protests also continue in Shanghai, Nanjing, Canton, Xian and
many other cities. Tens of thousands of workers in Shanghai are said to have joined the students’
protests there. In Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Autonomous Regions in north—west
China, groups of protesters reportedly stormed the local Communist Party headquarters and were
“severely dealt with”, according to an official Shanghai newspaper which gave no further detail.
A decision may be made to enforce martial law in Beijing and to stop by force the peaceful
demonstrations there and in other cities. In this regard Amnesty International is calling on the
Chinese authorities to issue instructions to all troops and security forces setting out strict
guidelines limiting the use of force in crowd control situations, and to impose rigid restrictions
on the use of lethal force, firearms and other means in accordance with international standards
governing the use of force in law enforcement.
All protests and marches have so far been peaceful, though a clash between soldiers and
protesters took place early on 23 May in the outskirts of Beijing. The clash was said to have
occurred when a large convoy of tanks and military trucks attempted to break through crowds of
people and makeshift barricades, apparently to move to a nearby military encampment. The
clash, however, was reportedly an isolated incident and the troops massed on the outskirts of
Beijing have so far made no attempt to enter the city. On 23 May hundreds of thousands of
protesters, including staff from several government ministries, marched again through Beijing.
There are still deep divisions among China’s political and military leadership about the
enforcement of martial law and whether to restore order by force. After martial law was
declared, ten government ministers reportedly offered to resign, and several political and military
leaders declared their sympathy for the students. By 23 May, the situation of the Party General
Secretary, Zhao Ziyang, who had opposed the imposition of martial law, was still unclear.
On 22 May, members of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s parliament, began
gathering signatures to open a special session of the NPC in order to consider the legality of
martial law, By 23 May, some 40 to 50 signatures were said to have been gathered out of the 80
required for the opening of such a session. It is believed that the NPC Chairman, Wan Li, who
has cut short a trip to the USA to return to China, may call an emergency meeting of the NPC
Standing Committee to debate martial law. It was also reported on 23 May that over 100 military
officers have vowed to refrain from entering Beijing to repress the crowds occupying, the centre
of the city.
Despite that, however, late on 23 May, there were reports that the majority of the
commanders of China’s eight military regions had pledged their support to the Prime Minister,
Li Peng, who declared martial law on 19 May, and that the number of the provinces whose
leaders had expressed loyalty to him was also increasing.
In this confused situation, it is uncertain whether force will be used to repress peaceful
protesters. However, as long as large-scale demonstrations continue throughout China, the
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Telegrams/telexes/airmail letters:
— urging the authorities to issue immediate instructions to troops and security forces not to
resort to the use of lethal force to repress peaceful protesters, and to conform to the restrictions
laid down in international standards regarding the use of force and firearms by law-enforcement
People’s Republic of China
Telegrams: Li Peng Zongli
Telexes: 22478 MFERT CN
(Please forward to the Prime Minister)
National People’s Congress
People’s Republic of China
Telegrams: Wan Li Zhuxituan
Changwu Zhuxi, National People’s Congress, Beijingshi, China
COPIES TO: Diplomatic representatives of the People’s Republic of China in your country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat, or your
section office, if sending appeals after 5 July 1989.