On the tenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, Human Rights Watch is calling on China to reverse the official verdict on the 1989 pro-democracy movement.
It's the perfect occasion for China to release the remaining Tiananmen-era prisoners, clear the names of those already freed, agree to compensate the victims, and allow pro-democracy activists in exile abroad to return home," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
She noted that there were precedents, notably after the Cultural Revolution, for Chinese authorities to declare that government actions against the populace were wrong, paving the way for rehabilitation of the victims.
"There has never been a full accounting for what took place ten years ago on the night of June 3-4," said Jones, "but the number of victims far exceeds the hundreds killed in the streets around Tiananmen Square." She said victims included those wounded, many of whom continue to be scarred politically as well as physically by their experience. In addition to the dozens of protestors who remain imprisoned, there are thousands who spent years in prison or labor camps for taking part in protests that erupted across China in the weeks that followed the June 4 crackdown, many of whom faced persecution after their release. And there is the official blacklist of Tiananmen-era activists, either released from prison directly into exile abroad, like Wang Dan, or barred from returning to China because of pro-democracy activities abroad.
Human Rights Watch said that over the last ten years, international pressure was critical in securing the releases of many of the June 4 prisoners, including those named as the "black hands" or masterminds of the pro-democracy movement. But as concern over human rights in China gave way to security and economic interests, there was a danger that the remaining prisoners, and the need for rehabilitation of all the Tiananmen victims, would be forgotten.
"The most important task of the international community now is to support the efforts of those inside China fighting on behalf of the June 4 victims," said Jones. "This means ensuring they are seen and heard by reducing state controls on the media, including the Internet. It means getting international access to the huge Chinese prison system. It means supporting legal reform so that victims and their families have a fair chance of challenging the government in court, with all the legal assistance they need. And it means continuing to call openly and publicly for a reversal of the Chinese government's official verdict on the June 4 movement."
Human Rights Watch also called on China to use the June 4 anniversary to review the cases of some 2,000 prisoners sentenced to crimes of "counterrevolution," an offense that was formally abolished last year. Many people, including some Tiananmen Square prisoners, are serving sentences for counterrevolutionary crimes for doing nothing more than peacefully exercising fundamental rights of expression, association, and assembly.