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Solidarity with the Tiananmen Mothers: News from the Campaign

July 25, 2000

 

HONG KONG: ANNIVERSARY FEARS

The Tiananmen Mothers’ Campaign was a major focus of many June Fourth activities in Hong Kong this year. In Hong Kong, the campaign is being sponsored by a group of NGOs. As well as Human Rights in China (HRIC), the sponsors are Amnesty International Asia-Pacific Regional Office, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students, the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee and the Hong Kong Christian Institute.

The campaign kicked off on Mothers’ Day, May 14, with an advertisement in three major local newspapers introducing the petition and the work of the Tiananmen Mothers. The ads were endorsed by 37 organizations and 144 individuals. On the same day, people involved with the campaign gave out leaflets and a postcard version of the petition at a number of Mothers’ Day events. In the run up to June 4, a number of newspapers published articles and opinion pieces about the Tiananmen Mothers campaign. A total of 25,000 campaign postcards were given out at various events or distributed in venues in Hong Kong in the weeks before the anniversary.

On the night of June 3, eleven years after the first gunshots were heard in Beijing, a moving tribute to the Tiananmen Mothers was staged in the Shum Oi Church in Shepkipmei, Kowloon. The two performances, one in Chinese and one in English, involved readings from the Mothers’ testimonies accompanied by movement, video and live music. The event dramatized the Mothers’ progress from loss to activism. Directed by a veteran of activist theater, Jennifer Tam, the performers included actors, poets, students, community activists, mothers and children, and two musicians who work in people’s theater in Bangladesh.

In addition, the team sent materials about the work of the Tiananmen Mothers to 550 secondary schools throughout the territory. In an accompanying letter, teachers were encouraged to use this to inform their students about what happened in 1989, how the Mothers have been struggling for accountability and how this relates to the global spread of citizens’ campaigns against impunity. The NGOs held two discussions workshops, one with university students and one with secondary school pupils.

At the annual June 4 Candlelight Vigil in Victoria Park organized by the Hong Kong Alliance, a recorded audio message from Ding Zilin was played to the assembled crowd, estimated to be up to 40,000 strong. Ding read a statement describing the work of the Mothers and thanking Hong Kong people for their support, and then in a conversation with an HRIC staff member, she spoke about the difficult conditions she and the other June Fourth families face in continuing their campaign for justice and accountability.

In late May, HRIC published a collection of writings by Ding Zilin and her husband, Jiang Peikun. This Chinese language book, entitled, The Living and the Dead—For China’s Future, comprises essays, statements, interviews and letters the couple have penned over the last ten years, including many previously unpublished works, and is illustrated with photographs. The book was on sale and the June 3 and June 4 events, and is now available in bookshops in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

 

MANILA: LINKING TO A NEW FEDERATION

In late May 2000, the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) convened its founding regional congress in Manila, the Philippines. AFAD is a coalition of grass-roots organizations in Asia seeking to promote cooperation in the fight against impunity and in the prevention of disappearances and other human rights abuses. AFAD had invited Ding Zilin to attend the conference as a representative of the Tiananmen Mothers.

But as Ding Zilin remains under strict surveillance and is concerned that if she leaves China, she may not be able to return home, she was unable to participate in the proceedings in person. However, she did attend the meeting in absentia by sending a statement delivered by an HRIC representative. In her statement, Ding wrote, “Because our struggle for our own individual rights has long been circumscribed to a very narrow space within China, we hope to join our own campaign with the greater global trend. At the same time, we wish to contribute to the regional and international cause of freedom and justice.” Ding expressed the Tiananmen Mothers’ intention of joining AFAD and said, “I hope to establish contact and communication with all federation members so we can give each other mutual comfort and support in times to come.”

The opening ceremony of AFAD’s founding congress was well-attended by approximately a dozen delegates of member and observer organizations - including Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) from the Philippines, the Organization of Parents and Family Members of the Disappeared (OPFMD) from Sri Lanka, the Commission for Involuntary Disappearances and Victims of Violence (Kontras) from Indonesia, the Relatives Committee of May 1992 Heroes from Thailand, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) from India, the Jammu Kashmir Human Rights Movement’s Truth and Justice Commission from Pakistan, the Linking Solidarity Project of the Humanist Committee on Human Rights from the Netherlands and the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees (FEDEFAM). Also in attendance were over 100 members of FIND from across the Philippines and local politicians, as well as representatives from the embassies of China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Pakistan and Indonesia.

The conference allowed delegates to speak about the situation of disappearances and human rights abuses in their respective countries, as well as the activities undertaken by family groups. Because most delegates had lost members of their own families in massacres and disappearances, the collective sharing of personal stories was especially moving. There were distinct similarities of experience in many countries - the family’s initial search, appeals made to the police and government authorities, the lack of answers, intimidation, the organization and mobilization of families, legal action and the struggle to end impunity. All recognized this same process in the situation of China, and expressed enthusiastic support for Ding Zilin and the Tiananmen Mothers. All participating groups expressed their solidarity by endorsing the Tiananmen Mothers’ petition.

During the conference’s internal meetings, AFAD discussed and ratified core documents, including its Orientation Paper, Constitution, By-laws and General Plan of Action, and elected chief officers, allowing the federation to become fully operational. AFAD also welcomed the intention of the Tiananmen Mothers to join the regional network.

In other activities, conference delegates visited two families of the disappeared in Manila, spoke with a nationwide radio station about the significance of a regionwide federation like AFAD, met with representatives at the office of the Philippine President and House of Senate and held a rally in front of Malacanang Palace, the government headquarters, demanding greater official support on the issue of disappearances.

On the 11th anniversary of the June Fourth Massacre, AFAD members sent a letter of condolence to the Tiananmen Mothers expressing solidarity with them in their common struggle.

 

COMMEMORATIONS AT KWANGJU, SOUTH KOREA

In 1980, nearly ten years before the June Fourth Massacre, the May 18th Kwangju Uprising provided an eerily similar spectacle of students and citizenry peacefully demonstrating for freedom only to be ruthlessly subdued by the military’s tanks and gun-fire. In contrast to the situation in China, however, in Korea what was an “uprising” is now officially called the “May 18th Kwangju Democratization Movement,” reflecting Korea’s own process of democratization and the event’s inclusion into its official modern history.

As part of the events commemorating the 20th anniversary of these events, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) together with the Kwangju Citizen’s Solidarity (KCS) and the recently formed umbrella group, the May 18th Memorial Foundation, arranged for family members of the victims of disappearances from around Asia to share their stories in Kwangju from May 17 to 19.

Along with the staff of these organizations, attending the “Gathering of Families of Disappeared Persons” were relatives of victims from Burma, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, a reporter from Kashmir, as well as a representative of Human Rights In China (HRIC) for the Tiananmen Mothers Campaign. Over the course of three days, the family members held a public sharing forum, attended the memorial service led by South Korean President Kim Dae Jung at the new May 18th Cemetery and Memorial, were guests at the provincial capital’s celebratory festivities and issued a resolution calling for the expeditious adoption of the United Nations Draft Convention on Disappearances. (The text of both resolution and draft convention is available at www.disappearances.org.)

In contrast to the solemn public events of Kwangju’s public memorials and celebrations, the family members’ sharing session was an intimate and heart-rending reminder of the innumerable private tragedies which fester in the wake of brutal government oppression. Many of the participants said they looked forward to the time when such a large-scale commemoration as Kwangju’s would be staged in their countries in memory of their own lost family members.

Even in Kwangju’s sympathetic and engaged atmosphere, HRIC’s representative was asked more than once by inquisitive citizens and reporters why family members of the disappeared from China could not join the events. When offered literature on the Tiananmen Mother’s campaign, everyone remembered the occurrence of the June Fourth Massacre. Many, however, did not realize that China’s current “liberalized” atmosphere still had no room for a public or even tacit recognition of the tragedy, let alone of the government’s role in the massacre.

 

LETTERS OF SUPPORT

Dear Ding Zilin,

When a child is born it is an empty vessel waiting to be filled with knowledge from its family members. It is loved, nurtured and cared for by parents and grandparents thus forming a close emotional bond. The love that a child gives is unconditional and precious. How painful it is when this love is extinguished through the actions of others.

The Mothers of the Plaza Del Mayo applaud your work and support your right as human beings to grieve publicly for your dead children. The deep loss that a woman feels when her child is taken from her is something that never heals. We should be able to celebrate their lives and mourn their deaths without fear of reprimand from authorities.

Our aim is simple - to locate our grandchildren who disappeared as a result of our pregnant daughters’ abductions and murders during the “Dirty War” period from 1976 to 1983. We continue to reunite these children with their legitimate parents, striving in some small way to bring happiness to the families who have lost loved ones. Our work is exhausting and sometimes fraught with danger. We will not give up until we are assured that the children’s human rights are not violated and that the Argentinian government punishes those responsible for this blatant display of cruelty.

The Mothers of Tiananmen Square should be celebrated for their strength in the face of adversity. Their peaceful campaign to highlight the deaths is slowly raising awareness of the Chinese government’s total lack of contrition.

We share your sorrow and anger at the way in which your government refuses to acknowledge your tragic and personal loss. We fully support your mission and send our deepest respect for your cause. Without our work, the memory of our children and grandchildren would have been lost to the annals of time. We must remain strong for the sake of future generations.

Yours sincerely,

Estela Barnes de Carlotto
President, Grandmothers of the Plaza Del Mayo, Argentina

 


June 1, 2000

TO: The mothers of the June Fourth Massacre victims

On the occasion of the 11th Anniversary of June Fourth Massacre, AFAD, a federation among Asian countries struggling for a world free from human rights abuses with special stress on involuntary disappearances, expressed its solidarity with the victims of June Fourth Massacre.

Involuntary disappearances have become one of the
most worrisome concerns of the present day world…threatening the very existence of civilized society…. It is an act of intimidation, seeking to subjugate the people and civil society… creating a fear psychosis…

AFAD appreciates the struggle of the mothers of victims of the June Fourth massacre…. We share your agony and sorrow and assure you that we are with you in your glorious struggle for justice for the victims and no impunity for the perpetrators. We have a common cause and therefore, we need a common struggle. Let us pledge…. that we will continue our struggle for a world free from involuntary disappearances and human rights abuses. We also have to continue our struggle to ensure punishment for the perpetrators.

Signed by all members of the AFAD Executive Committee
 


July 13, 2000

Dear Sir,

We are herewith forwarding the Tiananmen Mothers Petition signed by the Tibetan mothers of the Doeguling Tibetan Settlement, Mundgod, in support of the brave Tiananmen mothers who still haven’t given up demanding justice… which is realistic and needs support from the peace loving mothers all over the world.

We are with the Tiananmen mothers to demand justice for the righteous cause. And we look forward for a genuine support and justification to the mothers of the victims in the U.N. Millennium Assembly in New York to be held in September 2000.

Thanking you and with our best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs. Tsering Dolma
President, Tibetan Women’s Association
Regional Working Committee, Mundgod

 


The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights wholeheartedly supports this initiative, and we warmly applaud your tireless efforts to seek justice and accountability for the victims of the Tiananmen massacre in China.

The VCHR is happy to sign on as an organization, and we shall spread the information to our members and supporters.

We hope sincerely that your campaign receives the massive support it deserves. Whilst it is impossible to bring back the children of these courageous Tiananmen Mothers, your campaign will help bring justice, hope and comfort to them, and also to all other people who wage the daily combat for transparency, democracy and human rights.

Sincerely,

Vo Van Ai
President, Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
Vice-President, International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH)

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