CECC Chairman Byron Dorgan's Opening Statement at Hearing on The 20th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Protests

Congressional-Executive Commission on China | www.cecc.gov

Statement of U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan
Chairman, Congressional-Executive Commission on China

Hearing on "The 20th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Protests:
Examining the Significance of the 1989 Demonstrations and Implications for U.S. Policy"

June 4, 2009

(Washington, DC)—Welcome to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China’s first hearing in the 111th Congress. We have a distinguished group of witnesses before us today who will help us examine the significance of the tragic events of June 4, 1989, and aid us in exploring the implications of the 1989 democracy movement and its crackdown on U.S. policy toward China today.

We are honored to have a number of Tiananmen student leaders and others who participated in those demonstrations here with us in the hearing room today. I want to welcome one person in particular – Mr. Fang Zheng. Mr. Fang was an athlete at the Beijing College of Sports. On June 4, he was participating in the protests. When he sought to pull a girl out from in front of a tank, his legs were crushed under the tank. Refusing later to publicly deny that the source of his injury was a military tank, Mr. Fang was expelled from school. Despite enormous hardship, he went on to become China’s wheelchair discus and javelin champion. Earlier this year, he moved to the United States with his family. Welcome, Mr. Fang.

Twenty years ago, peaceful protesters like Mr. Fang gathered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square calling for the elimination of corruption and for political reforms. In Beijing and hundreds of other cities across China, they asked for the right to speak freely, and for other freedoms we take for granted here in the United States. These protesters included not only students. Government employees, journalists, workers, police, and even members of China’s armed forces also demonstrated that day.

Chinese authorities tried to persuade the demonstrators to leave Tiananmen Square. But they refused. Thousands of armed troops carrying automatic weapons in large truck convoys moved in to “clear the Square” and surrounding streets of demonstrators. Then, soldiers in columns of tanks fired directly at citizens and into crowds, inflicting high civilian casualties, and killing or injuring unarmed civilians.

Twenty years later, the exact number of dead and wounded remains unclear. The wounded are estimated to have numbered in the thousands. Detentions at the time were in the thousands. Some political prisoners who were sentenced in connection with the events surrounding June 4th still sit in Chinese prisons today.

I ask to be included in the hearing record a representative list of Tiananmen Square prisoners who remain in jail today. This list was developed from the Commission’s political prisoner database, the largest publicly accessible database of China’s political prisoners.

An untold number of Chinese citizens died in the government’s bloody crackdown. Relatives and friends have a right to mourn their sons, their daughters, their colleagues and their friends publicly. They have a right to call for a full and public accounting of the wounded and dead. They have a right to call for the release of those who are still imprisoned.

But for attempting to exercise these rights, relatives and friends of those killed in 1989 have faced harassment. They have faced arrest. They have suffered abuses. Today, we express our sympathy to them. Most of all we honor the memory of those whom they loved whose lives were lost.

Chinese authorities frequently tell us that today the Chinese people enjoy greater freedom to express themselves. I believe that it is true. But, at the same time, they repeatedly show the world how they violently silence those who work for fundamental rights for all of China’s citizens.

Right now, Chinese authorities are harassing and detaining human rights advocates. These include Mr. Liu Xiaobo and his wife, Liu Xia. Mr. Liu was a Tiananmen Square protester. He is now an important writer and thinker who signed Charter 08, which is a call for peaceful political reform published on-line last December by over 300 citizens. It has since been signed by thousands of individuals. For his endorsement of Charter 08, Mr. Liu is now under house arrest, and his wife faces constant harassment.

Last month, I met in my office with Geng He, the wife of the great human rights lawyer, Gao Zhi Sheng. Mr. Gao has not been seen or heard from since this past February. He represented the poor and politically dispossessed, persecuted Christians and Falun Gong, exploited coal miners, and those battling official corruption. After Mr. Gao was released from prison on politically related charges, he was placed under house arrest, and his family faced constant police surveillance and intimidation. For a period, even his 16-year-old daughter was barred from attending school. The treatment became so brutal that the family decided that their very survival depended on escaping from China. After his family fled, Mr. Gao was abducted from his home by members of the security services. He remains missing.

I urge the Chinese government to inform Mr. Gao’s wife, and his children, about where he is and to release him. His family is desperately worried about his well-being. I also appeal to the government to enforce internationally recognized standards of fairness and due process in judicial proceedings, and ask that it release those individuals imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights --- whether they exercised those rights in Tiananmen Square in 1989 or in China today. China is an extraordinary country which has had immense success on many fronts and is justifiably proud. China must now lead on strengthening the human rights of its people and the integrity of its legal and political institutions with no less skill and commitment than it has used to lead millions of its people out of poverty.