Authorities Suppress Calls for an Official Accounting in Lead-Up to 23rd Anniversary of Crackdown on 1989 Protests

June 5, 2012

In the lead-up to the 23rd anniversary of Chinese authorities' violent suppression on June 3-4, 1989, of protests in Beijing and other cities in China, Chinese citizens continued to call for an official accounting of those events and for a re-evaluation of the "verdict" of the protests as a "counterrevolutionary riot." Authorities responded by restricting the movements of people attempting to hold memorial events. Officials also continued to censor references to June 4 on the Internet. In recent months, Chinese officials have also continued to impose harsh sentences on citizens who have peacefully advocated for democracy.

As in previous years, some Chinese citizens continued this year to ask Chinese leaders for an investigation into the 1989 protests and a reversal of the "verdict" of these protests as a "counterrevolutionary riot" (China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), 1 June 12). Human Rights in China (HRIC)released on June 1, a statement by the Tiananmen Mothers, a group of parents representing Tiananmen victims, stating that they will not relinquish or change their three demands—"for truth, compensation, and accountability" (HRIC, 31 May 12, English and Chinese). The statement noted that 10 years ago, the Communist Party and the Chinese government verbally acknowledged democracy and human rights were universal human values, and that Premier Wen Jiabao had advocated for reform. It noted, however, that "violations of human and civil rights have reached an extreme level, the gap between rich and poor has widened dramatically, systemic corruption is out of control, the moral bottom line is near collapse, sudden mass incidents continue to keep occurring again and again. ...Maintaining stability has become China's top priority in order to preserve the firmness of the ruling party's power."

In 2008, Chinese authorities rebuffed the suggestion made by the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) to provide an official accounting of the response to the Tiananmen protests. In the December 12, 2008, fourth periodic report on China, UNCAT suggested that Chinese authorities "conduct a full and impartial investigation into the suppression of the Democracy Movement in Beijing in June 1989, provide information on the persons who are still detained from that period, inform the family members of their findings, offer apologies and reparation as appropriate and prosecute those found responsible for excessive use of force, torture and other ill-treatment." The Chinese government's formal response, published by UNCAT on December 10, 2008, accused the UN committee of introducing "many inaccuracies...for example, they claim that China 'suppressed' the so-called '1989 Democracy Movement.'"

According to a report by Dui Hua, a San Francisco-based nongovernment organization, less than a dozen Chinese citizens remain imprisoned for their participation in the 1989 protests (Dui Hua, 31 May 12).

In recent days, citizens in China gathered to memorialize the 1989 protests, and in some locations authorities responded by restricting the freedom of movement of participants. On May 27, citizens in Guiyang municipality, Guizhou province, gathered to commemorate June 4, including Mi Chongbiao, Yong Zhiming, Mo Jiangang, Tian Zuxiang, and Li Kezhen, according to the CHRD June 1 article and a June 1, 2012, Radio Free Asia article (English). While officials did not disrupt the demonstration as it took place, later that evening and in the days following, they began to detain people involved, according to the same articles. Police searched the homes of Mi and Yong, confiscating their computers.

Similar events occurred in other locations in China. On May 30, in Nanping city, Fujian province, activist Fan Yanqiong reportedly led petitioners in a demonstration, according to the CHRD June 1 article and a June 1, 2012, Radio Free Asia article (Chinese). The petitioners demanded that authorities overturn the "verdict" of the 1989 protests. After the demonstration, public security officials reportedly tailed Fan home, surrounded her building, and restricted her movements for at least three days. In Jinan municipality, Shandong province, about 20 people successfully gathered in early May to commemorate June 4, including retired professor Sun Wenguang. Sun reportedly said authorities have restricted his movements since May 15. (Mingbao, via Sina, 1 June 12)

Authorities blocked online access to news and information containing direct or vague references to June 4. Authorities reportedly blocked access to numerous terms on the Internet, including "six four," "23," "candle," and "never forget" (Guardian, 4 June 12). Authorities reportedly also began blocking the words "Shanghai Stock Market" and "index" on the Internet likely because the Shanghai stock market fell 64.89 points on Monday (June 4); and the Shanghai Composite Index opened at 2346.98, which may have been construed as a reference to the 23rd anniversary of the 1989 protests (LA Times, 4 June 12.)

In recent months, Chinese officials have continued to impose harsh sentences on citizens who have peacefully advocated for democracy. In December 2011, authorities sentenced Chen Wei to nine years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power" in connection with essays he wrote touching on political issues that were posed on overseas Web sites. In February 2012, authorities sentenced Zhu Yufu to seven years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power" for his writings, including a poem, and his alleged association with the China Democracy Party. Additional democracy advocates receiving long prison terms in recent years include Li Tie (10 years), Liu Xianbin (10 years), Guo Quan (10 years), and Xie Changfa (13 years).