Chinese authorities have formally arrested a man for trying to stage a repeat of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protest, his wife said on Tuesday, signalling an increasing intolerance for dissent under Communist Party rule.
Police in eastern Jiangsu province arrested Gu Yimin, an odd-job worker, on Friday on “suspicion of inciting subversion of state power”, marking the first time the charge has been used since President Xi Jinping took office in March.
Gu had been held in a detention centre in Changshu city in Jiangsu since early June, his wife said. The centre could not be reached for comment.
Inciting subversion is a charge that in the past was commonly levelled against critics of one-party rule.
The charge against Gu is the most significant of a series of police actions over the past three months against people who have demanded freedom of assembly.
Between late March and May, authorities detained 15 anti-corruption activists involved in demonstrations calling for government officials to publicly disclose their assets, according to Maya Wang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Gu, 37, applied in late May for permission to demonstrate on June 4, the 24th anniversary of the bloody crackdown on protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, his wife, Xu Yan, told Reuters. Chinese authorities rejected Gu’s application.
Gu had also forwarded several photographs commemorating the movement on his microblog, including one that said: “By the expiry date of this year, remove the Chinese Communists; on June 4, the city was slaughtered”.
“He possibly wanted to restore a bit of history, to let more people know about June 4,” Xu said by telephone. “I think this charge is a little heavy. If as a mere ordinary person, he could subvert state power, then this country’s state power is too easily subverted.”
Public discussion of the crackdown is still taboo in China, where on June 3 and June 4, 1989, its leaders ordered troops to open fire on demonstrators and sent in tanks to crush a student-led campaign movement, killing hundreds.
The Communist Party has banned references to the crackdown in state media, the internet and books, meaning most young Chinese are ignorant of the events.
State security officers told Xu that his crime was tied to “distributing photographs and writing a statement related to June 4”, she said. On Tuesday, police took away the family’s router, saying they needed to investigate the crime.
Xi’s ascendancy in a once-in-a-decade generational leadership transition last November had given many Chinese hope for political reform, mainly due to his folksy style and the legacy of his father, Xi Zhongxun, a former reformist vice-premier.
But many human rights activists say they see an emerging pattern that suggests Xi is not as tolerant of dissent as some had hoped for.
“There were such hopes before Xi’s new leadership that he would be the man who would take China forward on key issues including human rights, but these recent arrests of rights activists send a worrying signal that he might not have the appetite for real change at all,” said Wang of Human Rights Watch.