The Chinese government has a unique opportunity in 2009 to promote reconciliation and advance truth and justice for its people. October 1, National Day, will mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), a time to celebrate the nation’s unity and progress and a fitting occasion to heal past wounds. It is therefore the perfect time for the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and President Hu Jintao to issue a special pardon (特赦) for June Fourth prisoners, who have been imprisoned for offenses related to the 1989 Democracy Movement.
While almost all of the well-known student and worker leaders and intellectuals who participated in the protests from April to June 1989 have long been released, scores of others who were not – and are nameless to most of the world – continue to languish behind bars 20 years later. They are still serving time for offenses such as the destruction of property or “counterrevolutionary activities,”1 the latter of which is a crime that no longer exists on the books. While there is no official count of the number of imprisoned individuals, based on available information, Human Rights in China (HRIC) has compiled a list of 46 such individuals, which follows. HRIC calls on the Chinese authorities to release them pursuant to the special pardon mechanism provided in Articles 67 and 80 of the PRC Constitution.2
A special pardon would excuse the punishments levied against these individuals, and their release this year would allow healing among June Fourth victims, families, and society to begin. Government actions designed to promote the well-being of the people of China will also generate significant good will both domestically and internationally.
The government has granted special pardons in the past, including on the occasion of the PRC’s tenth anniversary in 1959, when it pardoned several dozen “war criminals” and thousands of “counterrevolutionaries.” This action allowed the PRC and its citizens to move beyond the upheaval of the Nationalist-Communist Civil War, conserve resources, and focus on the future of the nation.3 The time has come once again for the government to heal a national trauma and put the future of the nation and the people first.
1. The crime of “counterrevolutionary activities” was abolished in the 1997 revision of the Criminal Law. See Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China [中华人民共和国刑法], issued by the National People’s Congress [全国人民代表大会], promulgated July 1, 1979, effective January 1, 1980; revised March 14, 1997, effective October 1, 1997; amended and effective December 25, 1999, August 31, 2001, December 29, 2001, December 28, 2002, February 28, 2005, and June 29, 2006. ^
2. Article 67 provides: “The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress exercises the following functions and powers: . . . (17) To decide on the granting of special pardons . . . .” P.R.C. CONST. [中华人民共和国宪法] art. 67 (1982). Article 80 states: “The President of the People’s Republic of China, in pursuance of decisions of the National People’s Congress and its Standing Committee, . . . issues orders of special pardons . . . .” Ibid., art. 80. ^
3. See Dui Hua Foundation, “Calls Grow in China for Special Pardon to Mark PRC’s 60th Birthday,” Dialogue, no. 23 (Winter 2009) http://www.duihua.org/work/publications/nl/dialogue/nl_txt/nl34/nl34_1a.htm. ^