BEIJING: China deployed its vast security apparatus yesterday to snuff out commemoration of the suppression of pro-democracy protests around Tiananmen Square 25 years ago, flooding the streets with police as censors scrubbed the Internet clean of any mention of the crackdown.
Several governments including the United States urged China to account for what happened on June 4, 1989, comments that riled China, which has said the protest movement was “counter-revolutionary.” Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama used the anniversary to call on China to embrace democracy.
Taking no chances yesterday, police, soldiers and plainclothes security personnel enveloped Tiananmen Square, checking identity cards and rummaging through bags looking for any hint that people might try and sneak onto the square to commemorate the day.
Police escorted a reporter off the square, which was thronged with tourists, saying it was closed to foreign media. Police also detained another journalist for trying to report on the anniversary in one of Beijing’s university districts, releasing him after a few hours.
Public discussion of the crackdown is off-limits in China. Many young people are unaware of what happened because of years of government efforts to banish memories of the People’s Liberation Army shooting its own citizens.
“They have covered up history. They don’t want people to know the truth of what they did,” veteran activist Hu Jia said from his home in Beijing, where he said police were present to prevent him from leaving.
While the anniversary has never been publicly marked in mainland China, more than 150,000 people are expected to gather yesterday evening in Hong Kong for a candlelight vigil.
A large number of mainland Chinese are expected to join the event in the former British territory, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 but remains a free-wheeling, capitalist hub. The vigil has been held in Hong Kong every year since 1989.
The protests began in April 1989 as a demonstration by university students in Beijing to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, the reformist Communist Party chief who had been ousted by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. The protests grew into broader demands for an end to corruption as well as calls for democracy.
Many Chinese would balk at the idea of mass revolution today. China is now the world’s second biggest economy, with most Chinese enjoying individual and economic freedoms never accorded them before.
But Wu’er Kaixi, a leading figure in the pro-democracy movement of 1989, said Chinese people could rise up once more against the Communist Party in anger at anything from endemic graft to the country’s badly polluted air, water and soil.
“Yes, you gave us economic freedom, but you are jumping in and looting us, robbing us of our future, corrupting the culture, our values and the environment,” Wu’er Kaixi said ahead of the anniversary from Taiwan, where he works at an investment firm.
“All this has been clearly and widely expressed by Chinese people in the last two decades. This discontent will emerge into one thing one day: a revolution. I am sure the Communist Party is very well aware of this.”
Rights group Amnesty International has said at least 66 people had been detained in the period leading up to the anniversary.
In democratic Taiwan, which China claims as its own, President Ma Ying-jeou said China should ensure that a “tragedy” like June 4 never happen again.
United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay called on China to reveal the truth about what had happened 25 years ago.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei the Dalai Lama had “ulterior motives” for his Tiananmen comments.