Call for official enquiry into Tiananmen 20 years on

By agency reporter
June 3, 2009

Amnesty International said today (3 June 2009 that the Chinese authorities should hold an open and independent inquiry into the violent military crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Ahead of the twentieth anniversary of the protests (4 June), the organisation is urging people to sign an international online petition, calling for an inquiry, at

The call is being backed by survivors of the crackdown, Shao Jiang, Dr Wang Rongfen and Yenhua Wu, as part of a gathering a Amnesty's Human Rights Action centre in London.

The survivors are telling their stories and will be laying flowers of commemoration outside the Chinese embassy. Amnesty supporters across the UK will also hold candlelit vigils and will re-name local squares 'Tiananmen Square' as an act of solidarity tomorrow.

Amnesty International's UK Director Kate Allen, who is attending the London events, declared: "Events will take place around the world to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown but there will be few in China itself. Censorship and repression of those who try to talk about the events of June 1989 mean that many people don't even know what happened or are fearful of trying to find out."

Speaking at a press conference in London, Ms Allen said: "The Chinese authorities should reveal the truth about Tiananmen Square in an open and independent inquiry. They should release those who are still in prison for their involvement in protests that took place 20 years ago. And they should end the persecution of those who try to discuss the Tiananmen Square crackdown and other human rights issues."

The Chinese government has thwarted various attempts to shed light on the military crackdown which resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries in June 1989.

Between 20 and 200 people are still in detention for their involvement in the 1989 pro-democracy protests, according to several non-governmental organisations.

The Chinese government has not made official figures public and has even intensified its current repression of activists and lawyers in the lead up to the anniversary.

Amnesty International has documented at least 100 cases of activists who have been detained briefly or have faced violence from authorities in 2009 as they defended land rights, housing rights and labour rights. Signatories of Charter 08, a petition calling for legal and political reforms, continue to face questioning.

Several of these cases are related to the surveillance of activists ahead of the anniversary. Lawyers have also been threatened with violence by the authorities, hindered from meeting clients or even detained just for doing their work

In an open letter sent to Wu Bangguo, the Chairman of the National People's Congress of China, Amnesty International said: "Continuing to silence domestic voices calling for accountability is not in the interests of a harmonious society...The National People's Congress has within its powers the ability to lead the way in calling for an accounting of all those who died, those who were imprisoned and those who remain in prison still."

The letter continued: "Those who remain in prison, many under charges of 'counter revolutionary' crimes that were removed from the Chinese Criminal Code in 1997, should be immediately released as a first step toward accountability."

Not all of those who have been imprisoned for their association with the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement actually participated in the protests 20 years ago. Amnesty says that the Chinese authorities' ongoing suppression of public discussion of the events means that many have been sentenced to imprisonment after 1989 simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression: for example, by hosting online discussions or posting poems on the internet which commemorate the crackdown.

Imprisonment is not the only method that the Chinese authorities use to stifle public debate of the 1989 events. The prominent leaders of the Tiananmen Mothers group, Ding Zilin and Jiang Peikun are frequently subjected to police harassment and arbitrary detention. In May 2009 they were forbidden to attend a mourning ceremony.

At the launch of the Amnesty International Annual Report last week, AI Secretary General Irene Khan called on China to sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Chinese government's recent initiative in launching the National Human Rights Action Plan, which has provisions to eradicate unlawful detention and protect human rights guaranteed in the Chinese Constitution, was welcomed by Amnesty International.

However, Amnesty warns that the success of the Plan hinges on the implementation, not on just rhetoric.

Yesterday, China was reported to be blocking social networking sites, including Twitter, in the run up to the anniversary. These are the mechanisms by which people attempt to pick up information and evidence, despite the state's censorship of the media and the internet.

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