Tiananmen activists must be released

Wednesday 4 June 2008 marks the nineteenth anniversary of the Chinese government’s crackdown on the pro-democracy demonstrations in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Hundreds of civilians were killed and thousands injured by the Chinese military, with tens of thousands arrested during the protests in 1989. Many other activists have subsequently been imprisoned for highlighting or questioning the government’s actions that year.

With two months to go before the Olympics in Beijing, Amnesty International asks the Chinese authorities again to release those still in prison, to hold those to account those responsible for the crackdown, and to allow public mourning for and commemoration of the victims. Such a response will go a long way toward ensuring that the Olympic Games leave a positive human rights legacy.

On 2 June, from London to Tel Aviv to Mexico City, thousands of Amnesty International supporters will hold demonstrations. Many will lay red and white flowers in solidarity with the relatives of those killed and arrested. Many will also hold a one-minute silence to commemorate the victims of the recent earthquake in the Chinese province of Sichuan.

Amnesty International commends the Chinese authorities for their prompt and responsive reaction to the needs of the many victims of this natural tragedy.

On the anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy protestors 19 years ago, Amnesty International urges the Chinese authorities to respond with similar openness toward the families of those who were killed and those who were imprisoned or otherwise silenced for exercising their right to protest.

Official statistics are secret, but according to the US-based Dui Hua Foundation, between 60 and 100 prisoners are still being held. On the eve of the anniversary this year, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network published a list of 8 individuals who remained in prison in and around Beijing alone.

The Chinese authorities freed several prisoners in 2006 but continue to keep them under tight police surveillance and prevent them from engaging in any activities deemed politically sensitive, including speaking to journalists about their experiences.

Those who remain in prison include:

Miao Deshun, detained in June 1989 and convicted of arson. His original suspended death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment in 1991, and then to 20 years’ imprisonment in 1998. He is currently held at Yanqing Prison on the outskirts of Beijing and due for release on 15 September 2018.

Liu Zhihua was among a group of workers who organised a strike at the Xiangtan Electrical Machinery plant in Hubei province. His original sentence of  life imprisonment for giving ‘anti-government’ speeches and inciting a mob to engage in ‘beating, smashing and looting’ was reduced to 15 years in September 1993, but extended again by five years in 1997 after he was involved in a brawl. With his sentence reduced by a further two years for good behaviour in 2001, he is currently due to be released on 16 January 2011.

Wang Jun, at the time an 18-year-old worker from Shaanxi province, was given a suspended death sentence for throwing rocks, breaking street lamps and setting fire to several vehicles during a “serious political disturbance” at the Xincheng Factory in Xi’an city on 22 April 1989. He is currently held at Fuping prison in Shaanxi province. After four sentence reductions, he is due for release on 11 December 2009.

More recently, journalists and other activists seeking to keep the crackdown in the public eye have been harassed, detained and imprisoned. They include:
The Tiananmen Mothers, a group of human rights activists whose children and other close relatives were killed during the crackdown, who have been calling on the Chinese authorities to allow victims’ families the right to mourn in public, to end persecution of victims and their families, to release all those still imprisoned for taking part in peaceful protests and to implement a full and open inquiry into events of June 1989. Government authorities continue to subject them to harassment, discrimination and arbitrary detention.

Yang Tongyan
(pen-name: Yang Tianshui), a freelance writer, continues to serve a 12-year prison sentence in Nanjing Municipal Prison, Jiangsu province, for “subversion” in connection with several charges, including writing in support of political and democratic change in China. He had previously served a ten-year prison sentence for criticizing the crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy movement and allegedly trying to form an opposition political party. In 2007 he was reportedly forced to work making footballs and basketballs in an apparently toxic environment for 8-10 hours per day, but was transferred to lighter work as a prison librarian at the end of the year

Shi Tao
continues to serve a 10-year sentence for sending an email summarizing a Chinese Central Propaganda Department communiqué on how journalists should handle the fifteenth anniversary of the crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy movement. At the end of June 2007, he was transferred to Deshan Prison in Changde city, Hunan province, where his conditions of detention appear to have improved and he is now allowed to receive regular visits from his mother. The Supreme People’s Court has reportedly accepted an application to review his case, but there has been no further response.

Kong Youping, a former trade union activist, was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in September 2004 after he had posted articles and poems on the Internet calling for a reassessment of the 1989 pro-democracy movement. He is serving his sentence in Lingyuan prison, Liaoning province.