China in security clampdown on Tiananmen crackdown anniversary

The government has never released a death toll from the violence, but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.

China in security clampdown on Tiananmen crackdown anniversary

World Bulletin/News Desk

China deployed its vast security apparatus on Wednesday to snuff out commemoration of the suppression of pro-democracy protests around Tiananmen Square 25 years ago, flooding the streets with police as censors scrubbed the Internet clean of any mention of the crackdown.

For the ruling Communist Party, the demonstrations in 1989 that clogged Tiananmen Square in Beijing for about six weeks as well as other cities have long been a taboo topic.

The anniversary of the date on which troops shot their way into central Beijing has never been publicly marked in mainland China, although every year there are commemorations in Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, as well as in self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own.

The government has never released a death toll for the crackdown, but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.

Police, soldiers and plainclothes security personnel enveloped Tiananmen Square, checking identity cards and rummaging through bags looking for any hint that people might try and sneak onto the square to commemorate the day.

Police escorted a Reuters reporter off the square, which was thronged with tourists, saying it was closed to foreign media. Police also detained another Reuters journalist for trying to report on the anniversary in one of Beijing's university districts, releasing him after a few hours.

Public discussion of the events of June 4, 1989, is off-limits in China. Many young people are unaware of what happened because of years of government efforts to banish memories of the People's Liberation Army shooting its own citizens.

"They have covered up history. They don't want people to know the truth of what they did," veteran activist Hu Jia told Reuters from his home in Beijing, where he said police were present to prevent him from leaving.

"Nobody would have confidence in them if they knew what they did... They should have fallen because of what they did," he added, speaking by mobile telephone. 

PROTESTS QUICKLY SPIRALLED

China's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday defended the crackdown, saying the government had chosen the correct path for the sake of the people. The government at the time labelled the pro-democracy movement "counter-revolutionary".

The protests began in April 1989 as a demonstration by university students in Beijing to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, the reformist Communist Party chief who had been ousted by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. The protests grew into broader demands for an end to corruption as well as calls for democracy.

Many Chinese would balk at the idea of mass revolution today. China is now the world's second biggest economy, with most Chinese enjoying individual and economic freedoms never accorded them before.

But Wu'er Kaixi, a leading figure in the pro-democracy movement of 1989, said Chinese people could rise up once more against the Communist Party in anger at anything from endemic graft to the country's badly polluted air, water and soil.

"Yes, you gave us economic freedom, but you are jumping in and looting us, robbing us of our future, corrupting the culture, our values and the environment," Wu'er Kaixi told Reuters ahead of the anniversary from Taiwan, where he works at an investment firm.

"All this has been clearly and widely expressed by Chinese people in the last two decades. This discontent will emerge into one thing one day: a revolution. I am sure the Communist Party is very well aware of this." 

INTERNATIONAL CRITICISM

Rights group Amnesty International has said at least 66 people had been detained in the period leading up to the anniversary.

That includes prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and four other activists who were detained last month after attending a private meeting at an apartment in Beijing to discuss the crackdown, prompting concern in the United States and Europe.

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said it was disappointing that people associated with June 4 continued to face harassment and imprisonment.

"On this important anniversary, we must continue to voice our concerns on restrictions and abuses against freedom of speech, internet freedom, freedom of association, and persecution of religious and ethnic minorities in China," he said in a statement.

Ma Ying-jeou, president of democratic Taiwan, said China should ensure that a "tragedy" like June 4 never happened again.

"If Chinese authorities can tolerate differences, not only can that raise the height and the legitimacy of those in power, but also send a clear message to Taiwan that political reform in China is serious," Ma said in a statement.

Japan, engaged in a bitter territorial dispute with China, used the anniversary to urge Beijing to respect human rights and the rule of law.

"We expect positive movements from China," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo.

United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay on Tuesday called on China to reveal the truth about what had happened 25 years ago.

The run-up to the anniversary has also been marked by tighter controls on the Internet, including disruption of Google services, and tougher than normal censorship of the popular Twitter-like microblogging service Weibo.

"This is the 1,008th post that I've had scrubbed today," complained one Weibo user, attaching a screen shot of a message received from censors telling him that his post reading "It's been 25 years since that event" had been deleted.

The White House on Wednesday also urged China to account for those who were killed, detained or went missing in connection with the crackdown around Tiananmen Square 25 years ago and said it honored the memories of those who gave their lives in that protest.

"The United States will always speak out in support of the basic freedoms the protestors at Tiananmen Square sought, including the freedom of expression, the freedom of the press, and the freedoms of association and assembly," the White House said in a statement.

"These freedoms - which are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, the Chinese Constitution, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - are values the United States champions around the world."

The statement said the American people applauded "China's extraordinary social and economic progress over the past three decades" and valued good relations with the Chinese people and government.

"Even as we continue our cooperation on areas of common interest, the United States will continue to be clear about our differences, and urge the Chinese government to guarantee the universal rights and fundamental freedoms that are the birthright of all Chinese citizens," it said.

DALAI LAMA REMARKS

Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama marked the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing on Tuesday by urging China to embrace democracy and offering prayers for the protest "martyrs".

The Dalai Lama, reviled by Beijing as a separatist, made the rare comments on the June 4, 1989, violence at a prayer meeting two years after he renounced politics.

"I offer my prayers for those who died for freedom, democracy and human rights," the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner said according to a statement that was released by Initiatives for China, a Washington-based group that campaigns for a peaceful transition to democracy in China.

"While great progress has been made to integrate into the world economy, I believe it is equally important to encourage China to enter the mainstream of global democracy," he added.

"In this anniversary of China's young martyrs, let us pray that the Chinese leaders of today would turn their hearts away from fear and defensiveness, that they would reach out to the victims and victims' families, and repent of the massacre of China's youth."

A representative of the Dalai Lama's private office in Dharamsala, his base in northern India, confirmed that the statement was authentic.

China's Foreign Ministry condemned the comments.

"Everyone is clear about who the Dalai (Lama) is. His statement has ulterior motives," ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing.

Despite his global renown, the 78-year-old Dalai Lama is viewed by Beijing's communist leadership as a dangerous "splittist" who espouses violence. He denies the charges, saying he only wants genuine autonomy for his homeland.

China has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since troops marched in in 1950. The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule.

The Tibetan government in exile, headed by Lobsang Sangay, will hold a seminar in Dharamsala on Thursday outlining its so-called Middle Way Approach that seeks to bring autonomy to Tibet through peaceful change.

Last Mod: 04 Haziran 2014, 11:52
Add Comment