(New York) – The Chinese government should immediately drop charges against prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, clarify the status of journalist Gao Yu, and release other activists who have been detained for commemorating the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, Human Rights Watch said today. The Chinese government should also not silence, detain, or disappear any other rights advocates in the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the massacre.
“These charges and detentions lay bare just how little the Chinese government’s attitudes towards human rights have changed since 1989,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “A stable society is one in which peaceful discussions of history and accountability are tolerated – not crushed or criminalized.”
After attending a small seminar in Beijing on the Tiananmen Massacre with more than a dozen other activists on May 3, 2014, Pu Zhiqiang was taken away from his home by Beijing police late in the evening on May 4. Police then brought Pu home briefly to get a few belongings in the early hours of May 5. In the afternoon of May 5, Beijing police raided his apartment and took away his computer, mobile phone, and books.
Pu has been criminally detained on charges of “creating a disturbance” and is being held at Beijing Number 1 Detention Center. Four other seminar attendees, scholars Xu Youyu and Hao Jian and dissidents Hu Shigen and Liu Di, were also put under criminal detention on the same charge, according to fellow activists.
Pu, one of China’s top human rights lawyers, was a student activist who participated in hunger strikes during the pro-democracy protests of 1989. He has been subjected to regular questioning by the police, and was taken away by police for speaking to the media following the October 2010 announcement that Liu Xiaobo would receive that year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
Prominent journalist Gao Yu, who is in her 70s, has been missing and feared detained since April 24, 2014. Ms. Gao, who worked for the state press in 1989, was an active participant in the pro-democracy protests. She was jailed for over a year following the massacre, and then imprisoned again for six years for “leaking state secrets” in 1993. According to press reports, Gao was warned against speaking to journalists ahead of this year’s anniversary.
In the run-up to previous anniversaries of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, the Chinese government routinely tightened control over activists as well as relatives of those who died during the protests. More than two decades after the deadly crackdown, when the Chinese military opened fire and killed untold numbers of unarmed civilians, the Chinese government continues to deny any wrongdoing. The government has covered up the killings, failed to bring to justice the perpetrators, persecuted victims and survivors’ family members, and maintained tight control over freedoms of assembly and expression.
China’s leaders also continue to silence critics around other sensitive political anniversaries or events, such as the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress or high-profile diplomatic visits to China. In April 2014, at least three activists, including prominent human rights lawyer Mo Shaoping, were prevented from meeting German Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel during his visit to Beijing.
“Clearly the Chinese government’s efforts all these years to stamp out discussion about Tiananmen has had the opposite effect – it has generated sustained interest and determination to expose what happened in 1989,” Richardson said. “Beijing should by now have the confidence to allow open debate and investigate the events of June 3-4.”