Authorities Intensify Harassment of Activists Around 22nd Anniversary of the Chinese Government's Violent Suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen Democracy Movement

June 3, 2011

In the lead-up to the 22nd anniversary of the Chinese government's violent suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movement, authorities in China have stepped up monitoring and intimidation of rights activists, and prevented others from holding a memorial event. These latest developments occur against the backdrop of a broad crackdown against rights defenders, lawyers, artists, and bloggers in what international observers have described as one of the harshest crackdowns in years.

Officials in Beijing and elsewhere in China reportedly interrogated activists, restricted their movements, and warned them not to write articles about the Tiananmen democracy protests, give media interviews, or participate in public gatherings in the period around June 4, according to a report covering June 1-2, 2011, by the non-governmental organization Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD). These activists included Zha Jianguo, a democracy activist who was interrogated by state security officers on June 1, and Xia Yeliang, an economics professor at Peking University. Beijing police held Zhao Lianhai, a prominent advocate for children poisoned by tainted milk, and his family at a snack shop for several hours before releasing them. When they returned home they reportedly discovered that their electricity had been cut off. CHRD reported that on June 2, others, including the activist and artist Chen Yunfei, were placed under "soft detention," a form of unlawful home confinement. Officials in Guiyang city, Guizhou province reportedly forced dissident Li Renke to travel out of the city and told him that other dissidents in the area had been taken away.

In a June 3 report, CHRD noted additional cases of harassment, including that of Bao Tong, the former aide to Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang. CHRD said that state security officers had taken Bao and his wife away on June 1 in Beijing and that their whereabouts were not known. CHRD also said that after a meeting with police in Xian city, Shaanxi province, the democracy activist Yang Hai was forced to take a "tour" (luyou) away from his home.

In a May 23 report, Radio Free Asia (RFA) interviewed an unnamed Beijing activist, who said police called him on May 23 for "a chat." The activist described an increasingly tense environment in Beijing with plainclothes police taking positions at intersections around Tiananmen Square, adding "[the police] have even started extending out to the suburbs." A petitioner surnamed Liu told RFA: "There are a lot of people under surveillance back in their hometowns right now, because it's nearly June 4. I don't know the exact number, but they are being watched by the neighborhood committees, the local security patrols, and the police." On June 2, RFA reported that police in Shanghai dispersed some 200 petitioners dressed in white who attempted to enter a city park to hold a memorial for victims of the crackdown on the Tiananmen protests.

In other developments related to this year's anniversary, Human Rights in China released on May 30, an essay by the Tiananmen Mothers, a group representing Tiananmen victims. The essay said that in February and April 2011 public security officials initiated contact with one victim's family to discuss compensation. The essay noted, however, that the officials "did not speak of making the truth public, carrying out judicial investigations, or providing an explanation for the case of each victim. Instead, they only raised the question of how much to pay, emphasizing that this was meant for that individual case and not for the families in the group as a whole." The Tiananmen Mothers called for "removing all surveillance and personal restrictions imposed upon the June Fourth victims and their families; allowing the families of the dead to mourn their loved ones without interference; and the relevant government departments' providing pure humanitarian assistance to the victims experiencing hardships." In its June 3 report, CHRD said that starting on June 1, two of the Tiananmen Mothers, Ding Zilin and Zhang Xianling, were being held under "soft detention."

These latest detentions have occurred against the backdrop of a broad crackdown against rights defenders, lawyers, artists, and bloggers in what international observers have described as one of the harshest crackdowns in years. "The Chinese government's refusal to take responsibility for the massacre of unarmed civilians in June 1989 laid the foundation for the state impunity behind the current crackdown on dissent," according to a June 1 report by Human Rights Watch.