China continues crackdown on activists ahead of Tiananmen anniversary

The Chinese authorities have continued to harass activists and escalate censorship ahead of Thursday’s 20th anniversary of the violent military crackdown in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Some activists have been taken away by police officers and their whereabouts are currently unknown. Others have had their movements restricted or are being prevented from leaving their homes.

In order to limit communication between activists and Netizens, Chinese authorities have shut down the internet sites Twitter, Flickr and temporarily shut down Hotmail.

“Cutting off communication and preventing movement will not stop these activists from fighting for their rights and will not stop people from marking the 20th anniversary of the crackdown”, said Roseann Rife, Asia-Pacific Deputy Director at Amnesty International. “The quest for truth will only be fuelled by this excessive harassment.”

In Beijing, HIV/AIDS activist Wan Yanhai was forced to travel to the northern city of Changchun ahead of the anniversary. Police officers knocked at his door and requested he leave to “avoid possible conflict”. He refused but after negotiating with police for one and a half hours, Wan was forced to board a train to leave the capital with his family.

Carrying her infant daughter, Zeng Jinyan attempted to leave her home at 8am on Wednesday to attend her mother’s birthday celebration. Five policemen roughly pushed her back inside and told her she is not allowed to leave the house for these coming days.

Two police officers and four “Neighbourhood/Residential Committee” members have been stationed outside the house of Shanghai-based reproductive rights activist Mao Hengfeng since Tuesday. She was forced back inside after she attempted to leave and was told she is forbidden to go out until the 20th anniversary media spotlight was over.

Internet writer Tian Yongde was reported to have been taken away by internal security police in Inner Mongolia at around 3:30pm on Tuesday. He had been visiting his mother in hospital. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

Police have been stationed outside the houses of lawyers Jiang Tianyong and Li Xiongbing since Monday. Police drive them wherever they go.

Lawyers Lan Zhixue and Tang Jitian were discussing a case in the offices of an NGO at midnight on Tuesday. When they were leaving in the early hours of Wednesday, police from the Sijiqing station in Beijing’s Haidian district took them both in for questioning. They have not yet been released.

Hundreds of civilians were killed and injured 20 years ago during the violent military crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on 3 and 4 June 1989.

A number of people are still in prison for their involvement in the 1989 pro-democracy protests.

The Chinese government has not released official figures but several non-governmental organizations estimate between 20 and 200 individuals remain in detention. Amnesty International urged the Chinese authorities on Tuesday to hold an open and independent inquiry into events of 1989.

Amnesty International has documented at least 100 cases of activists who have been detained briefly or faced violence from authorities this year as they defended land rights, housing rights and labour rights. Signatories of the Charter 08, a petition calling for legal and political reforms, continue to face questioning. Several of these cases are related to the surveillance of activists ahead of the anniversary.

In the first four months of 2009, the organization also discovered at least four cases of lawyers who were threatened with violence by the authorities as they defended their clients, at least 10 cases where lawyers were hindered from meeting or representing clients and at least one case in which a lawyer was detained for doing his work. Lawyers recently have been threatened with denial of their licenses in retaliation for their work on rights defence cases.