China Releases Some Activists Held Before Tiananmen Anniversary

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Originally published by The Wall Street Journal on June 6, 2014

HONG KONG—Chinese authorities released a few of the dozens of activists and critics detained in the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the bloody 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square protests. But human-rights advocates say the continued detention of others suggests Beijing intends to continue its hard-line approach to dissent.

A person familiar with the matter on Friday identified one Hong Kong-based journalist who was detained May 31 as an American citizen. A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said officials there were aware of the reports.

Chinese authorities Friday released a fourth person detained after attending a May 3 forum to discuss the 1989 crackdown, according to lawyers and rights groups. Film critic Hao Jian, who had held the forum in his Beijing apartment, was released on bail, they said. Mr. Hao had been detained on May 6 on suspicion of “picking quarrels.”

Three others—scholar Xu Youyu, activist Hu Shigen and dissident writer Liu Di —detained around the same time as Mr. Hao on the same suspicions were released on bail Thursday. All four had been criminally detained, a step below a formal arrest that doesn’t necessarily result in charges being filed.

The most prominent participant in the forum, rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, remained in custody on similar suspicions along with his niece and fellow lawyer, Qu Zhenhong, according to Mr. Pu’s lawyer, Zhang Sizhi.

Mr. Zhang said he expected Ms. Qu, who was suspected of illegally gathering personal information, would be released soon, but that Mr. Pu was likely to spend more time in detention.

“Pu’s case isn’t as simple as the May 3rd meeting,” he said.

Asked Friday why Mr. Pu continued to be held, China Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, “China’s judicial authorities always follow the law in dealing with people.”

Chinese authorities routinely detain or otherwise attempt to silence dissidents in the run-up to the anniversary of the June 4, 1989, crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians, according to some estimates.

This year, police detained an unusually large number of regime critics, according to human-rights groups. The group Chinese Human Rights Defenders put the number at 50 “detained, disappeared or summoned.”

If they continue to hold all these people, it could indicate that China’s leaders are taking a firmer approach than in years past, according to Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch.

“Our fear is that the June 4th anniversary was an excuse for authorities to detain these individuals and that a portion of them will be processed through the criminal system,” she said.

Among those nabbed ahead of the anniversary was 70-year-old journalist and activist Gao Yu. Ms. Gao, who has been openly critical of Beijing, was detained May 8 on suspicion of leaking state secrets and later shown on state television in an orange prison smock admitting to having “seriously harmed state interests.”

Mr. Zhang, who also represents Ms. Gao, said that she remained in detention and that he hadn’t been allowed to meet with her.

Police in southwestern China also continue to hold Xin Jian, a Chinese national who was working for a Japanese news organization, Nihon Keizai Shimbun, according to a spokesman for the news service.

In a story on May 15, two days after she was detained, the news organization said Ms. Xin had been present at past interviews with Mr. Pu and that authorities had told her family she was detained in connection with an investigation into the lawyer.

Also Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that police had detained Chinese-born Australian artist Guo Jian on June 1 over what they said was a problem with his residence permit.

Mr. Guo’s detention came shortly after the Financial Times newspaper described a work of his in which the artist covered a table-sized diorama of Tiananmen Square in minced pork.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said consular officials had met with Mr. Guo and that he would be released in 15 days, then required to leave the country. It said it would extend him consular assistance.

Authorities in the southern city of Shenzhen last week detained Wang Jianmin, a Hong Kong-based journalist who is an American citizen, on suspicion of operating illegal publications, according to his former employer, Hong Kong news weekly Yazhou Zhoukan. Mr. Wang is the publisher of two magazines, Xinwei Monthly and Mask, that trade in mainland Chinese political gossip, the weekly said.

Mr. Pu, the most prominent among those detained, is one of China’s best known rights lawyers. He was a signatory of Charter 08, the 2008 pro-democracy manifesto penned by now-jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, and has represented or publicly supported a number of the country’s most sensitive dissidents, including artist Ai Weiwei.

Hu Jia, a veteran Beijing-based activist, said he expected that authorities would find a way to hold Mr. Pu for a few more months as a way “to knock him down a peg” and extract a promise from him not to attend anymore Tiananmen commemorations, but that they would avoid subjecting him to a criminal trial.

“If he’s not the most famous lawyer in China, then he’s one of the three or four most famous,” Mr. Hu said. “They don’t want the spectacle of a trial. He’s too well respected.”

—Miho Inada and Robb M. Stewart contributed to this article.

Write to Josh Chin at

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