Dozens of activists were hauled away by police after attempting to visit the grave of a famous dissident whose execution during the Cultural Revolution remains a politically sensitive topic in today's China, 46 years after her death.
Chen Jianxiong, a rights activist from Dongguan in Guangdong said he was taken to a police station for questioning along with dozens of others who attempted to visit the gravesite of Lin Zhao, a 35-year-old political prisoner executed for "counter-revolutionary crimes" in 1968.
Chen shared photos of men in special police force uniforms standing at the entrance of the Hanshizhong Cemetery in Suzhou city, Jiangsu province, and later the view from a bus as he was being taken away to the local Xukou police station.
A person at the station reached by phone said no-one had been detained there.
This is the third year Chen has attempted to visit Lin Zhao’s grave. Last year, remembrance activities had also been obstructed when he and others attempted to mark the 45th anniversary of Lin's death.
Lin Zhao was a student at Peking University when she was first prosecuted for advocating freedom of speech. Sentenced for running an underground newspaper in 1960, she spent years in detention and was eventually executed in 1968.
Her mother was informed of her death in May that year, when police asked her to pay five fen, or 0.05 yuan, for the bullet used to execute her daughter.
Chen said he had already been questioned on Monday over the purpose of his visit to Suzhou. “Lin Zhao’s spirit of dying rather than surrendering deserves admiration from all of us,” Chen recalled telling the policemen during questioning.
He said the officers drove him to the train station, hoping he would go home. But he tried to visit Lin’s tomb again today.
In 1980, the Shanghai High Court revoked Lin's verdict and declared her innocent posthumously. The People’s Daily, the top newspaper of the Communist Party, at the time described her execution as a deed of extremists during the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution.
Commemorations of Lin's death were revived in recent years as dissidents find inspiration in her defiance in the face of political persecution. In 2003, freelance film maker Hu Jie shot an award-winning documentary about Lin's life.
In 2004, some university students and faculty members donated money to build a grave for Lin in her hometown of Suzhou, which contained only a piece of her clothing and a strand of her hair, as her remains were never recovered.
Four years later, the Hangzhou-based historian Fu Guoyong wrote about the many letters that Lin Zhao sent from jail to the People’s Daily, making her life story better known to the wider public.
As of Tuesday, searches for Lin Zhao’s were not been blocked on Weibo microblogs. However, many photos of heavy police presence at the cemetery were deleted after activists shared them on social media.
Two microblog posts by The Beijing News, a popular newspaper in the capital, remembering the anniversary of Lin Zhao’s execution have also been deleted.
The newspaper replaced its ‘Today in history’ post on Lin with one on Mao Zedong declaring the beginning of the Hundred Flowers campaign, which briefly relaxed controls on speech, at an extended Politburo meeting on April 29, 1956.
Mao declared he would let “a hundred flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend” in China, sparking the protests in which Lin first called for political reforms.