Still in prison 35 years after Tiananmen Square

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Still in prison 35 years after Tiananmen Square

Originally published by AsiaNews on Jun. 3, 2024

While China is systematically erasing the memory of the brutal repression of student protests on 4 June 1989, 14 prominent participants of that movement are still behind bars, rearrested for their struggle for democracy. Chinese Human Rights Defenders issued an appeal for their release. In Hong Kong there is concern for Jimmy Lai’s health.

Milan (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a major international NGO supporting Chinese dissidents, issued an appeal last week to mark the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

“For 35 years, all top Chinese leaders, from Li Peng to Xi Jinping, have been fixated on erasing memories of June 4 by persecuting those who peacefully seek accountability,” reads the CHRD statement. “Everyone who cares about justice should” call “on Beijing to immediately and unconditionally release these and all other prisoners of conscience in China.”

The appeal includes a list of 27 people who, for various reasons, are still in prison in relation to the Tiananmen Square movement. “[F]ar from being complete, [. . .] it is a window to the severity, scale, and persistence of reprisals by the Chinese government over the past 35 years,” the statement reads.

In particular, 14 names belong to people who participated directly in the events of 35 years ago and are currently in prison after they were rearrested for promoting democracy in China.

Zhou Guoqiang (周国强) was imprisoned for organising a strike in support of student protests in Beijing in 1989, and served four years in a re-education camp. He was arrested again for online comments in October 2023. His current whereabouts and charges remain unknown.

Guangdong activist Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), who took part in the 1989 movement as a student in Shanghai, has been serving a six-year sentence since 2015 for his human rights activism.

Another university student from that time, Chen Shuqing (陈树庆) from Hangzhou, has been serving a 10-and-a-half-year sentence since 2016 for pro-democracy activism.

Lü Gengsong (吕耿松), a teacher fired in 1993 for supporting the pro-democracy movement, has been serving an 11-year sentence since 2016 for his pro-democracy work.

Beijing-based lawyer Xia Lin (夏霖) has been serving an 11-year sentence since 2016 for his professional work as a lawyer; he participated in the 1989 movement as a student at the Southwest Institute of Political Science and Law in Chongqing.

Xinjiang activist Zhao Haitong (赵海通) has been serving a 14-year sentence since 2014 for his activities as a human rights defender. He, too, had been imprisoned in the aftermath of the 1989 massacre.

Xu Na (许那), artist, poet, and a Falun Gong follower, took part in the hunger strike in Tiananmen Square. She was arrested in 2020 and sentenced to eight years in prison for “using an evil cult to disrupt law enforcement.”

Sichuan activist Chen Yunfei (陈云飞) served a four-year sentence from 2015 to 2019, in part for organising a commemoration for the victims of 4 June. He had participated in the 1989 movement as a student at the China Agricultural University in Beijing.

Another member of the student movements at the time, Xu Guang (徐光), was arrested in 2022 and is serving a four-year sentence on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

Huang Xiaomin (黄晓敏), who was arrested in Sichuan province in 2021, suffered th same fate, and was sentenced to four years, while Cao Peizhi (曹培植) was arrested in 2022 and sentenced to 2.2 years in Henan province.

Zhang Zhongshun (张忠顺), another student who participated in the 1989 protests, was reported to police in 2007 for talking to his students about the events of 4 June. He was jailed for three years and is now in jail for continuing to support activism and faces charges of subversion in Shandong province.

Wang Yifei (王一飞) disappeared into police custody after he was detained in 2021. Before his arrest in 2018, he had been demanding justice for the victims of 1989 for several years.

Shi Tingfu (史庭福), already convicted of organiing a public vigil in Nanjing in 2017 and giving a speech in memory of the victims of Tiananmen, was rearrested in January 2024 and is awaiting trial on several charges, including “spreading false information, and inciting terrorism and extremism in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.”

The other 13 names belong to people who were not directly involved in the events of 1989 in Beijing, but fought in mainland China and Hong Kong to keep alive the memory of what happened.

This second list includes Tong Hao (仝浩), a young doctor born in 1987, who was jailed for 1.5 years for publishing a post on 4 June 2020. He was arrested in August 2023 and has been in police custody in Jiangsu province ever since.

Some of the jailed are dissidents in Hong Kong, like Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho, and Chow Hang-tung; the latter, a lawyer, was recently issued a new arrest warrant in prison together with seven other people (including her mother) for commemorating the Tainanmen massacre online.

Businessman Jimmy Lai, 76, is the founder of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, which was forced to close. He took ill today, the 87th day of his surreal trial. This has raised concerns about his health and conditions in prison.

As Chinese Human Rights Defenders note, three witnesses to events in Tianamen Square have died in prison in the past 35 years.

The most prominent is Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), who died in July 2017 from liver cancer in police custody while serving an 11-year sentence since 2009 for his role as a leader in the Charter 08 campaign. A university lecturer in 1989, he was jailed for 18 months for taking part in the 1989 movement.

Jiangsu writer Yang Tongyan (杨同彦) died a few months after Liu, in November 2017, from a brain tumor. He was serving a 12-year sentence imposed in 2006 for his political activism. He had already spent 10 years in prison for taking part in the 1989 movement.

Last but not least, we must remember labour activist Li Wangyang (李旺阳), who died under suspicious circumstances on 6 June 2012 while in a hospital guarded by police in Shaoyang, Hunan province. Li, leader of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, was sentenced to a total of 23 years in prison. Chinese authorities claimed he committed suicide by hanging himself in his hospital room, a claim his family has disputed since Li was blind and deaf from torture and would not have been physically able to hang himself. Against the wishes of Li’s family, Hunan authorities conducted their own autopsy and then cremated the body.

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