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Chinese Authorities Must Release All June Fourth Prisoners

June 4, 2008

Nineteen years after the violent June 4, 1989 crackdown on students and other citizens peacefully calling for greater openness and democracy in China, an untold number of people remain in prison for "crimes" relating to their activism. As the Chinese authorities respond to the devastating Sichuan earthquake, they must also take responsibility for the unknown number of deaths in the Tiananmen Square crackdown 19 years ago.

Reassessing June Fourth is something China must do in order to truly join the international community and modernize. By refusing to redress the past, China cannot move forward as a responsible global leader.
— Sharon Hom, Executive Director of HRIC

"The Chinese government must stop whitewashing the history of what happened on June 4, 1989, and enforcing historical amnesia on society. It continues to block the efforts of rights defense groups in China like the Tiananmen Mothers who seek to uncover the truth—most recently by blocking domestic access to their newly-launched website," said Human Rights in China Executive Director Sharon Hom. "Reassessing June Fourth is something China must do in order to truly join the international community and modernize. By refusing to redress the past, China cannot move forward as a responsible global leader. The authorities must respond to the calls by the Tiananmen Mothers and others for the release of individuals still in prison, an investigation, a public accounting, and for a healing dialogue to begin."

Official control on information about what happened on June 4, 1989, has contributed to a whole generation of Chinese youth unaware of their own history. The Chinese government has never responded to the repeated demands for government accountability and reassessment, often harassing, detaining and imprisoning people raising them, including Hu Shigen (胡石根).

Hu, a veteran democracy activist who has sought to increase awareness of the crackdown of the 1989 Democracy Movement, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1992. The charges were based on his participation in groups advocating democracy and independent work unions and for writing articles stating that the Communist Party had stripped the Chinese people of their basic human rights. He has reportedly been tortured and suffers from severe health problems. Demands for medical parole have been repeatedly denied by the prison authorities. In 2005, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that Hu's detention was arbitrary.

The Chinese government should immediately release Hu as well as all others similarly determined to be arbitrarily detained and all those still in prison as a result of June 4-related convictions.

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  • For additional information about Hu Shigen, see:

    End Illegal Detention

    In addition to Hu Shigen, four other individuals featured in Human Rights in China's Incorporating Responsibility 2008 campaign have been determined by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to be arbitrarily detained. This international independent body has declared that Shi Tao (师涛), Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚), Yao Fuxin (姚福信), Hu Shigen, and Li Chang (李昌) are in detention arbitrarily, yet all remain in prison. HRIC calls on the Chinese government to release these five individuals and all others declared to be in detention arbitrarily.

    The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is a "Special Procedure" of the Human Rights Council, the main human rights body at the United Nations. It investigates cases of arbitrary deprivation of liberty around the world, and acts on information submitted by governments, international bodies, NGOs, and individuals. In its China cases, the Working Group has examined issues related to the lack of an independent judiciary and imprisonment on the basis of exercising freedom of expression. The Working Group has visited China twice (in 1997 and 2004), where it met with government officials, lawyers, judges, prison officials, and prisoners. Although it has made many recommendations, few have been implemented.

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