Police prowl square as muzzled survivors mark Tiananmen massacre quietly

This story was printed from channelnewsasia.com

Police prowl square as muzzled survivors mark Tiananmen massacre quietly

04 June 2004 2339 hrs (SST)


BEIJING : Police swamped China’s Tiananmen Square, keeping dissent at bay on the 15th anniversary of a bloody pro-democracy crackdown as survivors and relatives privately mourned the hundreds who died.

With the event highly sensitive to the ruling Communist Party, few, if any, commemorations were taking place to mark the day when hundreds, perhaps thousands, of protestors were killed by Chinese troops.

Police vans criss-crossed the vast square in central Beijing constantly Friday, while on majestic Chang’an Avenue — the main route used by tanks and soldiers in 1989 — uniformed People’s Armed Police and undercover teams were out in force.

All traces of the bullet holes and tank tracks that scarred the area have long since been erased.

One wheelchair-bound man dared to protest, wearing a headband with a slogan on it. He managed to unveil and hold up a slip of paper before security forces pounced and took him away, an AFP photographer witnessed.

A group of middle-aged men and women, meanwhile, were seen being processed in the courtyard of the Tiananmen Square police station where detainees are first taken, although why they were there was not clear.

Police refused to comment.

While few in the capital dare to commemorate the massacre publicly, tens of thousands gathered in Hong Kong to light candles in an annual event to remember those who died.

In Washington, many of the student leaders of the 1989 protests who now live in exile in America held their own memorial in front of the Chinese embassy.

Taiwan, which split from mainland China in 1949, used the occasion to attack China’s poor human rights record and urge its leaders to move towards democracy.

And in India, Tibetans in exile voiced solidarity with the Chinese pro-democracy movement, using the anniversary to urge greater freedom for Chinese-ruled Tibet.

The only candles being lit in Beijing were behind closed doors, and even then it was far from safe.

“They threatened to take me away if I lit a candle,” Hu Jia, a leading Tiananmen and AIDS activist, told AFP from his Beijing home where he is under house arrest.

In the lead-up to the anniversary, China’s secretive state security police placed known dissidents under house arrest and even forced some from their homes to hotels outside the Chinese capital.

Universities were monitored by a state security police taskforce to prevent commemorations taking place, academics said.

“The Chinese government is trying to wipe out the memory of Tiananmen Square, but the horror of what happened still resonates inside and outside China,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

“We don’t even know exactly who died in the massacre. The Chinese authorities need to punish those responsible, compensate the victims and allow those who fled the country to return home.”

Qi Zhiyong, who lost a leg when he was run over by an armed personnel carrier on the night of June 4, said he would mark the event mourning for those who died.

“My heart feels very grieved. Democracy has eluded us for such a long time,” he told AFP.

Many people in Beijing are too scared to talk about those fateful events, while others are more concerned with jobs and money in a country where economic reforms have rapidly transformed lives.

Some though refuse to forget.

“The police came to warn me and told me not to leave my home and not to invite friends to the house,” Zhou Duo, a former economics professor at Peking University who took part in the 1989 demonstrations, told AFP.

“But this year, like every year on June 4, I will make a hunger strike during the day.”

The Chinese leadership has shown no signs of changing its position on the crackdown, defending its actions this week as necessary for economic growth and China’s emergence on the world stage.

State media, which is banned from using the phrase “liusi” or June 4, predictably made no mention of the anniversary.

Analysts said Beijing was unlikely to change tack any time soon.

“This is still a taboo subject,” China specialist Joseph Cheng from City University in Hong Kong said.

“This can be very controversial and this can create a lot of divisions within the leadership. That’s why the subject must be suppressed, must be hidden from the public.”


Copyright © 2003 MCN International Pte Ltd

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