Police shadow families, activists
Mainland activists and the families of victims of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown yesterday marked 22 years since the crushing of pro-democracy protests amid heightened security, police harassment and an escalating clampdown on dissent.
The families of at least four of those killed on June 4, 1989, gathered at a public cemetery in the capital's western suburbs and held a memorial ceremony under intense surveillance. The families are members of the Tiananmen Mothers, a support group of 127 relatives of those killed and injured in the bloody crackdown.
Zhang Xianling , the mother of a student who was among the dead, said the annual ceremony at the Wanan Cemetery, which started in 1999, was intended to show to the outside world the relatives' strength and persistence. 'We have to unite because we have similar sufferings and our demands as well as our plight are more or less the same,' she said.
During the 40-minute ceremony, nearly 20 people from the families laid flowers on the grave of one of the victims and read out an open letter the group issued last week calling for vindication of the victims.
Zhang said the ceremony was allowed to go ahead only after angry relatives quarrelled with the police.
'We were quite surprised that authorities tried to prevent us from getting together as planned because it is not supposed to be a big anniversary,' she said.
She recalled similar interventions during the 15th and 20th anniversaries of the crackdown.
Overseas reporters were barred from entering the cemetery.
Jittery authorities markedly stepped up security ahead of the sensitive anniversary, with many dissidents and activists harassed or reportedly taken from their homes across the country, and internet controls apparently tightened.
Police surveillance of Zhang and other victims' relatives increased last week. 'They forbade me from visiting other relatives or going to Tiananmen Square,' Zhang said.
Ding Zilin, founder of the Tiananmen Mothers, could not be reached amid speculation she was taken away by police or was under house arrest.
In a sign of the authorities' sensitivity, Bao Tong, a former top aide to the ousted party leader Zhao Ziyang, was also reportedly removed from his home in the capital for the first time in years.
Chen Ziming, a leading intellectual who was jailed for 13 years as one of the 'black hands' behind the pro-democracy movement along with another jailed activist, Nobel Peace Prize-winner Liu Xiaobo, said he was told by security officials not to go out until next Friday.
'I don't need to hold ceremonial events to remind myself of the anniversary,' he said.
He would continue researching democratic theories and drawing lessons from the 1989 Tiananmen movement as part of his commemoration, he said.
Veteran rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who as a law student was at the square on June 4, 1989, said he went to the Yue Fei Temple in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, after being forced to leave Beijing in the lead-up to the anniversary. The temple honours the famous general and hero of the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279) who was killed by Emperor Gaozong over false accusations, becoming a symbol of loyalty in China.
Pu was followed by police officers everywhere he went. He could not to return to the capital for the anniversary after going to Hangzhou for a court case.
'No matter where I am, at home, at the office, outside Beijing, I'm always thinking about what happened that night on this day,' Pu said. 'And I'll find ways to show my remembrance.'
Zhao Lianhai, who campaigns on behalf of children made ill in the melamine-tainted-milk scandal, was harassed by several plain-clothes policemen, who lit firecrackers outside his home. 'We are living in constant fear,' he said.
Unlike in February and March, when online calls for rallies to be held in the wake of the so-called jasmine revolutions in North Africa prompted the deployment of hundreds of police and plain-clothes officers on Beijing's main roads, only a few dozen uniformed police were seen at the square and in shopping districts.
The death toll from the crackdown, according to the diary of former premier Li Peng
- 42 were college students, he said