China urged to free Tiananmen-era prisoners

A New York-based human rights watchdog urged China on Tuesday to honour its commitment to improve its rights record before the Beijing Olympics by freeing some 130 Tiananmen-era prisoners.

Human Rights Watch made the call on the eve of the 19th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army’s crushing of student-led demonstrations for democracy centred on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

Human Rights Watch asked China to issue a complete list of those killed, injured or jailed as no such lists are publicly available. As recently as 2004, at least 130 people arrested in the wake of the protests were still in prison, the watchdog said.

Another rights group, the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy on Monday had quoted an unnamed source as saying about 20 000 people were detained in the wake of the protests nationwide.

About 15 000 of those detained were charged as counter-revolutionaries or other crimes and 70 were issued death sentences that were carried out immediately, the group had said, quoting a source close to late Chinese president Yang Shangkun.

The source said Yang had said that more than 600 people died in the Tiananmen protests. Yang died in 1998.

”The Chinese government should show the global Olympic audience it’s serious about human rights by releasing the Tiananmen detainees,” Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement received by email.

”Beijing’s use of Tiananmen Square as a macabre prop for China’s Olympic ‘coming-out-party’ adds insult to injury.”

There was no immediate government comment.

Human Rights Watch also called on the government to provide redress to victims and overturn its verdict labelling the pro-democracy movement a counter-revolutionary rebellion.

It demanded the government cease the harassment, arrest and imprisonment of survivors, families of victims and scholars who dare to challenge the official version of events or demand state accountability for Tiananmen abuses.

In a leadership rift, Zhao Ziyang was toppled as Communist Party chief for sympathising with students and opposing the crackdown. He was accused of splitting the party and died in 2005 unrepentant after spending more than 15 years under house arrest at his Beijing courtyard home.

In another development, New York-based watchdog Human Rights in China condemned Chinese judicial authorities for harassing Teng Biao, one of China’s most active rights defence lawyers, and a colleague by refusing to renew their licences.

”The targeting of lawyers who take cases deemed sensitive by the authorities makes a mockery of rule of law and newly effective amendments to the Lawyers Law, which claims to ‘protect the practice of law by lawyers,”’ said Human Rights in China executive director Sharon Hom. – Reuters

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