China's leadership still silent on Tiananmen

Eleven years on, activists hold out hope for bringing the perpetrators to justice.

As a reddish-orange dusk descended on Beijing on June 3, Ding Zilin began lighting memorial candles scattered throughout her tiny apartment on the western outskirts of the city.

Reenacting a ritual she has performed each year for the past decade, Professor Ding and her husband pray for their son, a 17-year-old student who was fatally shot as the Chinese Army launched its 1989 march to recapture Tiananmen Square from pro-democracy protesters occupying the area.

As always, the two will be joined in the memorial only by shadows. Ding says China's secret police surround her apartment at People's University annually to ensure she has no contact with the outside world during the ceremony.

Other plans for quiet memorials elsewhere in Beijing and in the central city of Xian were also stopped by police. An activist was seized by China's security forces in Tiananmen Square Sunday, according to the Associated Press.

Eleven years after the massacre of hundreds of unarmed protesters, it remains a crime to publicly commemorate those killed in the assault. The government's continuing vigilance today stems from its conviction that the crackdown on the "counterrevolutionary rebellion" was necessary for social stability.

But Ding, like others, insists that "the government is losing its long-standing battle to prevent a global spotlight from being shone on Tiananmen."

Current efforts to redress the events during the summer of 1989 center on the Internet and international human rights law.

Frank Lu, a 1989 protest leader who now runs a human rights group in Hong Kong, says "Ding Zilin was scheduled to speak via a Web-cast to Tiananmen commemorators in Hong Kong, but the police cut her telephone line."

Despite the police effort to isolate Ding, Netizens within China and beyond are logging on to to sign a petition that calls for an "end to persecution of June fourth victims."

The cyberpetition also seeks "the release of all people still suffering in prison for their role in the 1989 protests and a full, public accounting for the June fourth massacre, ending impunity for the perpetrators of this crime."

Mr. Lu, recently launched his own Tiananmen Web site,, which has received 100,000 hits in China alone. He says Ding and others are getting a moral boost because the Internet is a communications tool that often can't be stopped by China's security forces.

Another global trend that offers Lu and Ding hope is the move to punish crimes against humanity regardless of state boundaries. He cites Britain's detention of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for killing or kidnapping antigovernment activists. Ding Zilin and other relatives of Tiananmen victims, says Lu, would like to try the leaders behind the 1989 massacre.

But it's a long shot. Andrew Nathan, a China expert at Columbia University in New York, says there remain almost insurmountable obstacles to such a trial.

"The international criminal court, of course, has not yet come into existence ... [and] it will provide many safeguards to protect government officials," says Professor. Nathan. "Another point is political: A big power like China is likely to be treated with special deference by other countries," he adds.

Despite those barriers, Mr. Nathan says, "The Pinochet prosecution and a host of other events, the Milosevic indictment, Cambodian war crimes tribunal, the international criminal court, and so on, have alarmed the Chinese leaders ... because they see these things as part of an interventionist trend that could be used against them."

Bao Tong, the most senior Communist official to be jailed for opposing the use of force against Tiananmen's protesters, says the party's top leaders are also alarmed by the continuing dissension within their own ranks over the decision to use lethal force to quell the 1989 protests.

Mr. Bao, who as secretary to the all-powerful Politburo headed the liberal wing of the party until his imprisonment, says "there are many reformists within the party who understand that the government can only build a stable future by righting the wrongs of the past, and Tiananmen tops that list."

Bao advocates a blanket amnesty for all those who are still in jail for joining the 1989 protests and a new dialogue - a reconciliation council - with people from all walks of life on the country's future.

But Professor Ding says the road toward a post-Tiananmen future must be paved with prosecutions of those still in power who ordered the troops into central Beijing 11 years ago.

In a letter recently sent to the Supreme People's Procuratorate, (China's equivalent of the attorney general in the US) by over a hundred victims of Tiananmen, Ding said that in 1989, "the government authorities ... seriously violated not only China's Constitution, but also the international obligations of sovereign countries to protect humanity."

Ding added that as China moves to become part of the global community through such acts as joining the WTO and signing the UN's Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and as it vows to build a system ruled by law at home, "the law must be equally applied to all citizens, and if anyone, including a government leader, violates the law, he must be prosecuted."

Still, the efforts to get Beijing to face up to the events of June 4 face the tyranny of time. Hong Kong has long been a bastion of support for the pro-democracy movement in China.

About 10,000 people showed up for a candlelight vigil Sunday night. But a survey released Sunday shows that support for the movement in Hong Kong is falling, Reuters reports. Some 36 percent of those surveyed said that Beijing students did the right thing in 1989, down nine percentage points from last year.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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