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International Community Must Support the Tiananmen Mothers to Press for Official Accounting of the 1989 June Fourth Crackdown

June 1, 2018

“Although the June Fourth tragedy has become history, the catastrophe it brought has not yet come to an end, and it is difficult for the wounds to heal.”

Tiananmen Mothers, June 1, 2018

It has been 29 years since the Chinese authorities unleashed a bloody crackdown on the 1989 Democracy Movement, killing hundreds of unarmed civilians in Beijing, and also suppressing protests in other cities. In abject denial of fact, the Chinese government claims that characterizing the protests as a democracy movement “is a distortion of the nature of the incident.” Instead, the authorities call it “political turmoil” and insist that “the timely and decisive measures taken by the Chinese Government at the time were necessary and correct.”

At home, the government has sustained a campaign of enforced amnesia in attempts to rub out the memory of June Fourth: it has never accounted for its actions against demonstrators calling for democratic reforms, including students, teachers, workers, and ordinary citizens; despite repeated calls by survivors and family members of victims, it has never made publicly available the list of those killed, wounded, and imprisoned; and it has consistently persecuted those who dared to hold public commemorations of June Fourth victims in past anniversaries.

But despite their efforts, the authorities have never succeeded in erasing that episode of history from the minds of the Chinese people. As the 29th anniversary of the crackdown approaches, new voices—from inside China as well as outside—are courageously joining those before them to speak out about the need for an official accounting of the government actions that triggered worldwide revulsion and condemnation. They include the artist Hua Yong (华涌) who webcasted from inside China a 28-minute video featuring himself and using a taboo phrase as its title: “June 4 Approaches” (六四将近); a netizen posting a reminder that the four individuals from Sichuan who were detained in 2016 and charged with “inciting subversion of state power” for creating an “Engrave 8964 in Your Memory” beer label (铭记八酒六四) are still awaiting trial; and the 1989 student leader Wang Debang’s young daughter, who recently left China, speaking to the media earlier this month about the hardships the authorities have inflicted on the entire family because of her father’s role in the protests.

A group that has never stopped pressing for the truth despite harassment, intimidation, and persecution is the Tiananmen Mothers, composed of surviving victims of June Fourth and family members of those killed.

“For almost three decades, the Tiananmen Mothers have been the conscience of the Chinese people and a powerful symbol of resistance against enforced amnesia,” said Sharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China.

In text and video interviews with victims and family members, the group has been compiling and preserving evidence of the military’s deliberate killing of peaceful protesters and bystanders. And in open letters every year to the authorities, they renew their three fundamental requests:

  • the truth
  • compensation to victims and families
  • accountability

The Chinese government has never properly responded to or even agreed to meet with the Tiananmen Mothers. Instead, it has attempted various tactics to splinter the group.

Through the years, HRIC has supported the Tiananmen Mothers in their struggle for justice by publishing and translating their statements, open letters, and other materials, in order to make them accessible to the English-speaking public, broaden public awareness of their cause, and build solidarity for their legitimate demands.

A decade ago, addressing the ongoing lack of official accountability for the 1989 violent military crackdown, the UN Committee Against Torture, composed of independent experts who reviewed the Chinese government’s implementation of the Convention Against Torture, concluded that the government “should conduct a full and impartial investigation into the suppression of the Democracy Movement in Beijing in June 1989, provide information on the persons who are still detained from that period, inform the family members of their findings, offer apologies and reparation as appropriate and prosecute those found responsible for excessive use of force, torture and other ill-treatment.” The Chinese government’s response to this was that it “has closed the case.”

The consequences of this ongoing impunity and rejection of its international obligations have become clear over time. China’s expanding strategy of social control and repression—including the ongoing repression of the people in Tibet and Xinjiang in violation of international standards on religious and personal freedoms—highlight that past impunity and the ineffective response of the international community has simply emboldened the authorities to target ever expanding groups. In particular, over the past year, in the name of fighting terrorism and separatism, the Chinese authorities have deployed massive surveillance in Xinjiang, and have detained tens of thousands of civilians. In one area, an estimated 11 percent of the adult minority population is in detention.

As we approach the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Democracy Movement next year, HRIC urges the international community to take a principled stand against the Chinese government’s assault on truth, history, and human rights, including a renewed call for government accountability of the June Fourth crackdown.

“This is a critical moment to express support for their just cause—and keep faith that the truth will prevail. As Lu Xun once said, ‘Lies written in ink cannot cover up facts written in blood’ (墨写的谎言掩盖不了血写的事实),” said Sharon Hom.

We urge world citizens of conscience to send a solidarity message to the Tiananmen Mothers—a shrinking group whose many members were not able to see justice done in their lifetimes—by leaving a message for them on our website (see right hand column of webpage), or on social media using the hashtag #SupportTiananmenMothers.

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