Twenty-Two Years after Tiananmen Massacre, Worst Repression in a Generation

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No Justice for Past Atrocities, No Guarantee of Human Rights

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, June 2, 2011) – As the world watches and reacts to the events of the Arab Spring unfolding across the Middle East and North Africa, commentators are drawing parallels to the Chinese pro-democracy movement of 1989, both in recognition of the symbolic similarities of the demonstrations and in fear of how repressive regimes in the region might respond. At the same time, in China, the current leaders of the Chinese Communist Party have instituted the most severe repression of dissent and activism since the post-Tiananmen crackdown.

Twenty-two years later, the legacy of the 1989 pro-democracy movement remains as relevant as ever for both China and the international community, as the Chinese government still has not addressed the human rights atrocities committed during the violent crackdown on peaceful protestors in Beijing between June 3 and 4, 1989. In fact, the government is farther than it has been in years from guaranteeing Chinese citizens their basic rights and freedoms, the very cause which brought them to Tiananmen Square in Beijing and the streets of many cities in the spring of 1989.

The Chinese government has long defied international calls for justice for the victims of the Tiananmen Massacre. For example, in 2008, the UN Committee against Torture requested that Chinese officials

“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.”[1]

To date, the Chinese government has launched no such investigation, much less has it apologized, offered compensation, or held individuals accountable for killing, injuring, imprisoning, persecuting and torturing individuals for participating in peaceful protests. Families continue to be barred from publicly commemorating the deaths of their loved ones and from seeking accountability. Activists have been persecuted and harassed for independently investigating the crackdown or for calling for a rectification of the government’s “verdict” that the pro-democracy movement was a “counter-revolutionary riot.”

While the time around June 4th is always among the most “sensitive” on the government’s calendar of political repression, the police harassment, restrictions on movement, and other forms of intimidation that have become an annual occurrence are taking place this year in a more tense environment. The steady backsliding on human rights and the rule of law in China, which began in earnest during the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games, has reached a peak in recent months as the government has mobilized police across the country to detain, disappear, and intimidate hundreds of individuals. At least 48 individuals have been subjected to criminal detention since mid-February, and so far seven of those have been formally arrested and one already convicted. Sixteen remain in some form of detention as of the time of writing. At least 22 individuals, including a number of prominent human rights lawyers, have been subjected to enforced disappearances, some for as long as 70 days. At least 12 individuals are still missing. Reports from individuals who have been detained or disappeared in recent months indicate that torture and mistreatment have been routine, as police seek to pressure these individuals to abandon their human rights activism or keep silent about their treatment during detention.

The support of the international community is now more critical than ever, as Chinese activists face ever-greater risks for speaking out against abuses or expressing their aspirations.

This June 4th, the U.S., the E.U., and other democratic governments should once again condemn the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre—an important reminder to the Chinese government and citizenry that the international community has not forgotten. They should continue to call for an investigation and demand that those responsible for the 1989 atrocities be held accountable.

The Human Rights Council (HRC) should convene a special session on China to discuss the appropriateness of its membership on the Council. The current crackdown on activism and dissent in China is the worst in over 20 years. China has served on the HRC since 2006; however, during the two terms of its membership, the Chinese government has continued its pattern of gross and systematic violations of Chinese citizens’ rights. The Chinese government has repeatedly and directly contravened those international human rights treaties which it signed and/or ratified, including, among others, the Convention against Torture and Cruel, Degrading, or Inhuman Treatment or Punishment, which China signed and ratified in 1988.

In light of the recent actions the HRC and the UN General Assembly has taken with respect to human rights abuses in the Middle East and North Africa, including the suspension of Libya’s membership on the HRC, and the Commissions of Inquiry and fact finding missions to Libya and other countries, we urge the HRC to authorize the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights to launch an inquiry into the current crackdown on human rights and pro-democracy activists in China and demand that the Chinese government take concrete measures to address past and ongoing human rights abuses. .

Media Contacts:

Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 6937 or +1 240 374 8937,

Wang Songlian, Research Coordinator (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 1660,

David Smalls, Researcher (English) +1 347 448 5285,

For more information, please see:

CHRD, The Legacy of Tiananmen: 20 Years of Oppression, Activism and Hope, June 1, 2009,

CHRD, “Individuals Affected by the Crackdown Following Call for ‘Jasmine Revolution,’” updated May 30, 2011,


[1] UN Committee against Torture, “Consideration of reports submitted by State Parties under Article 19 of the Convention, Concluding Observations of the Committee against Torture: China,” November 21, 2008, CAT/C/CHN/CO/4.

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