HRW says Chinese government is taking steps to suppress upcoming Tiananmen Square protests

Ronit Kawale
Ronit Kawale - Senior Editor
4 Min Read

The Chinese administration on Tuesday arrested several activists seeking to hold commemoration ceremonies of the 35th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre in China and Hong Kong, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released on Sunday.

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Furthermore, the administration has rejected all admissions of the mass killings that occurred during these incidents and any redress to the victim families.

“The Chinese government is trying to erase the memory of the Tiananmen massacre in China and Hong Kong,” Maya Wang, acting China director at Human Rights Watch, said in the report. “But 35 years later, the government has been unable to extinguish the flames of memory of those who risked everything to promote democracy and respect for human rights in China.”

According to the HRW report, on April 3, 1989 student leader Xu Guang was sentenced to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” after he demanded that the government should acknowledge the Tiananmen massacre while holding a signboard calling for redress against the local police station in May 2022. While in custody, Xu was reportedly tortured, shackled, and abused by defense personnel.

In another case, a group called Tiananmen Mothers, made up of relatives of victims of the 1989 massacre, claimed in the HRW report that one of their founders, Zhan Jianling, was kept under close surveillance outside her home. In addition, human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and Guizhou student leader Ji Feng were also kept under close police surveillance.

In addition, on 28 and 29 May, Hong Kong police arrested seven people, including already detained lawyer-activist Chow Hang-tung and his 65-year-old mother, for allegedly posting “seditious” posts about an “upcoming sensitive date”. Chow was one of the organisers of Hong Kong's annual Tiananmen Vigil, which was being organised by the now-disbanded Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.

These were the first arrests under the city's recently adopted National Security Ordinance, known as “Article 23”, which punishes peaceful speech and civil society activism with heavy imprisonment. In January this year, a Hong Kong court rejected Chow's plea for acquittal, while he was scheduled to be released in December 2022 on charges of “inciting others to participate in unauthorized assembly”. Expressing concern, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that Chow's arrest was arbitrary and has called for his immediate and unconditional release.

The HRW report claims that members of the Hong Kong Alliance face potential life imprisonment for “inciting subversion” under Hong Kong's national security law, for which a trial date is awaited. In November 2023, Hong Kong authorities did not renew the work visa of Rowena, a Canadian-Chinese history professor. She was subsequently dismissed from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She is the author of Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China, which authorities removed from Hong Kong public libraries in May 2023.

The Chinese government has long ignored domestic and international demands for justice for the Tiananmen massacre. Some of the sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States at the time have been weakened or suspended in recent years. The HRW report says repeated pressure from the international community has led to a serious increase in human rights violations in China.

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