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(New York) - On the 19th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, the Chinese government should honor its commitment to improve human rights before the 2008 Beijing Olympics by releasing the estimated 130 Tiananmen prisoners improperly arrested or tried, Human Rights Watch said today.

Chinese army troops initiated a massacre of an estimated 2,000 unarmed people in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and other Chinese cities on and after June 3-4, 1989. The Chinese government has wholly failed to account for those killings and bring justice to the victims.

“The Chinese government should show the global Olympic audience it’s serious about human rights by releasing the Tiananmen detainees,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Beijing’s use of Tiananmen Square as a macabre prop for China’s Olympic ‘coming-out-party’ adds insult to injury.”

The 1989 crackdown extended to major urban centers across China and resulted in the arrest of hundreds of people on charges ranging from “counterrevolutionary” offenses to “hooliganism,” including robbery, arson, and assault. The government continues to harass survivors, their families, and those who dare to challenge the official version of the events at Tiananmen Square. Current figures are not made public, but as recently as 2004, at least 130 individuals arrested in the wake of the June 3-4 massacre were still in prison.

The Chinese government intends to use Tiananmen Square for various Olympic functions. It has already held the starting ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games torch relay at Tiananmen, and will hold the closing ceremonies there as well. In February 2001, the Chinese government dropped Tiananmen as the proposed venue for beach volleyball at the request of an International Olympic Committee (IOC) evaluation team that visited Beijing five months ahead of the July 2001 IOC decision to award the 2008 Games to Beijing.

On June 3-4 1989, the Chinese government turned its troops and tanks against its own citizens to suppress a movement of students, plus some workers, academics, writers and journalists, demonstrating peacefully for a pluralistic political system. The death toll included the slaughter of hundreds of ordinary Chinese who massed in the streets of Beijing to stop the army from reaching Tiananmen Square.

China was globally condemned for its crackdown on the protesters, and several states imposed sanctions, including the ongoing European Union arms embargo. In 1990, however, then-President Jiang Zemin dismissed international condemnation of the Tiananmen Massacre as “much ado about nothing.”

On the 19th anniversary of the June 1989 Tiananmen massacre, Human Rights Watch again urges the Chinese government to:

  • overturn the 1989 official pronouncement labeling the student movement a “counterrevolutionary rebellion;”
  • publicly recognize that the June 1989 massacre is a deeply divisive source of pain and frustration even within the ranks of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, by providing redress to the victims;
  • cease the harassment, arrest and imprisonment of survivors, family members, and scholars who demand state accountability for Tiananmen abuses; and
  • issue a complete list of those who died or were injured, and those who were imprisoned, as no such lists are publicly available.

“The Chinese government wants the 2008 Beijing Games to expunge the memories of the 1989 Beijing massacre,” said Richardson. “China could replace the image of the lone man blocking the tanks with the image of the Tiananmen prisoners being freed – a truly Olympian gesture.”

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