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Pressure Mounts for Release of Zhao Ziyang

October 15, 2004

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that a concerted campaign is mounting in China for the release of former Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, who was purged from his position and has been living under house arrest since the official crackdown against the Chinese Democracy Movement in June 1989.

According to informed sources inside China, in the past three days large groups of people have been gathering outside of Zhao’s Beijing home, requesting permission to see him. The groups, which range in size from a dozen to upwards of 100 people, seem to be made up largely of Zhao’s former subordinates and his close friends and relatives. While Zhao’s home has in recent years been constantly surrounded by police, security seems to have been reduced more recently, and some of the people waiting outside have been allowed to register their names and gain admittance to Zhao’s home. A relative of Zhao living in the United States telephoned him to confirm these reports, but Zhao said that little has actually changed, and the people he would really like to see are not being allowed to see him.

Zhao Ziyang was the most senior official to be purged in connection with the 1989 crackdown. A proponent of political reform, Zhao believed that the establishment of democracy could avoid the repetition of disastrous events such as the Cultural Revolution. On May 19, 1989, Zhao tearfully begged student protesters to leave Tiananmen Square. That was the last time he was seen in public. The Chinese government declared martial law the next day, and violently suppressed the movement on June 3-4. Zhao, living under house arrest ever since, marks his 85th birthday on October 17 and is reported to be in frail health.

A growing number of former officials and dissident intellectuals have begun organizing a number of activities to mark Zhao Ziyang’s birthday and call for his release. These activities include:

• Articles posted on the Internet by writers such as former officials Bao Tong and Bao Zhunxin, and overseas activists such as Su Shaozhi, Yu Haocheng, Chen Yizi, Yan Jiaqi, Zhang Wei and Wu Guoguang;

• A special conference at Columbia University scheduled on Zhao’s birthday to review Zhao’s contributions to China’s political reform;

• An online petition collecting signatures in China and abroad calling for Zhao to be released from house arrest.

HRIC supports these efforts and is also organizing an online birthday card to send warm wishes to Zhao Ziyang.

“Zhao Ziyang is one of the giants of China’s reform movement,” said HRIC president Liu Qing. “He’s already lost his freedom for 15 years, and is an elderly man in poor health. It’s time for the Chinese authorities to restore his freedom, and allow him his rights to normal social activities.”

Anyone who wants to sign HRIC’s online birthday card to Zhao Ziyang should send an e-mail. (Please put “Birthday Wishes” in the subject line.)