‘I will not be silenced. I want truth behind Tiananmen’

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Originally published by The Telegraph on June 3, 2014

By Tom Phillips in Hong Kong

Relatives of Chinese citizens gunned down during the 1989 Tiananmen massacre have defied unprecedented Communist Party attempts to silence them to demand the truth about their loved-ones’ deaths ahead of today’s 25th anniversary of the crackdown.

More than 150,000 people are expected to gather at a candle-lit vigil in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park on Wednesday night to commemorate the still unknown number of lives lost during Beijing’s offensive against pro-democracy protesters that reached its peak on June 4, 1989.

But in mainland China, where activists accuse the government of waging a vindictive campaign of intimidation in the lead-up to the landmark anniversary, public commemoration of the event remains strictly forbidden.

At least 50 people have been “detained, disappeared or summoned for police questioning” since April, according to figures compiled by the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group. They include writers, activists, artists, lawyers, journalists and filmmakers as well as the elderly relatives of those killed in 1989.

Among those placed under house arrest is Ding Zilin, a university professor who founded the campaigning group Tiananmen Mothers after losing Jiang Jielian, her 17-year-old son.

Renee Xia, CHRD ’s international director, said this year’s crackdown appeared to have been the toughest in all the years since Tiananmen.

“The leaders are more nervous because they feel less secure due to increasing social conflict and widespread discontent. They fear any display of dissent might spark protests against the government,” she said.

However, a number of families have chosen to defy Beijing’s attempts to muzzle them.

“All I want now – all I have ever wanted – is for the truth to be published,” Ma Xueqin, whose 19-year-old daughter, Zhang Jin, was hit in the head by a stray bullet as she left work, told The Telegraph.

“They dare not tell the truth because the truth is too cruel. So much killing.”

Liu Meihua, who lost Xie Jingsuo, her 21-year-old son, said: “My only wish is for the government to reevaluate the June 4 incident. I have felt sad every single day since my son’s departure.”

“I doubt I will live to see that day because of my age,” Ms Liu added. “No government body has ever offered us an explanation or a solution or taken responsibility for the issue. Young people today know little about June 4, since it is rarely read about or talked about, and the older people are dying out.”

To this day, Beijing’s official line is that the decision to send thousands of troops to clear Tiananmen Square on the night of June 3 was a “prompt and decisive” reaction to a “counter-revolutionary riot”.

No public inquiry has ever been held and those who lost relatives still have no clear idea about the exact circumstances in which their loved-ones were slain.

Speaking on the eve of the anniversary, Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, called for an “open and independent inquiry” into the killings and condemned Beijing for seeking “to wipe the events of June 4 from memory”.

“These devastated families deserve a full and open account from their government,” Mr Shetty said.

Ma Xueqin, 69, said her daughter had died after being hit in the head by a stray bullet at around midnight on June 4, 1989. “The soldiers were firing at random in every direction,” she said. “What did my girl do to deserve this?” Ms Ma said warnings and threats from Chinese security services would not silence her.

“I have done nothing wrong. It has been so many years. I have nothing to fear. They can never erase history.”

Wu Dingfu, 72, whose son, Wu Guofeng, was shot and stabbed to death during the military assault, said: “They defended democracy and freedom with their lives. So whoever comes to see us, domestic or national security people, we don’t care.”

“Why should we remain silent? I must tell others clearly how my son died,” added Mr Wu, 72.

Sharon Hom, the executive director of the Human Rights in China (HRIC)

campaigning group, said that after 25 years of trying to bully such families into silence, Beijing’s tactics were no longer working.

“The surveillance, the threats, the monitoring, the phones, all of that: they have kind of reached a plateau,” said Ms Hom, whose group recently released a series of rare video statements from the families of five Tiananmen families.

“Fear is no longer effective to keep them silent because they are saying: ’What more can you do to us?’ Now they are going to speak out.”

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