Gao Yu & the 25th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square by Lucy Popescu

Lucy Popescu

Gao Yu & the 25th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square


This month sees the 25th anniversary of the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square. On 4 June 1989, pro-democracy protests were brutally suppressed and an estimated two thousand unarmed individuals were killed by Chinese troops in Beijing and other cities. In the run-up to the anniversary, the Chinese authorities are once again attempting to silence dissident writers and journalists.

On 3 May this year at least 15 people – writers, scholars and activists – gathered at a private residence in Beijing to commemorate the anniversary. After the meeting, the participants, who included relatives of those killed during the protests, released a statement calling on the Chinese government to launch an official investigation into the atrocities and to compensate the families of the victims. They also released a photograph which showed them holding a banner that read, ‘2014 Beijing June 4 Anniversary Seminar’.

The authorities responded by detaining many of the participants. Most were released after interrogation but, at the time of writing, five prominent dissidents continue to be held. They are writer and human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, writer and activist Hu Shigen, writer and professor at the Beijing Film Academy Hao Jian, scholar Xu Youyu, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and dissident blogger Liu Di. Under Chinese law, police can hold people for up to thirty days before deciding whether to pass the case on to prosecutors. All five are currently held at Beijing No 1 Detention Centre.

Hu and Liu are members of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC). Hu, a university lecturer and political activist, spent 16 years in prison from 1992 to 2008 on charges of ‘leading a counter-revolutionary organisation’ and ‘counter-revolutionary propaganda’ for his pro-democracy activities and writings. He is also an honorary member of PEN Canada and English PEN.

Liu is a freelance writer and translator based in Beijing, also known by her online nickname ‘Stainless Steel Mouse’. In 2002, when still a university student, she spent over a year in prison without trial on subversion charges for blogging about China’s internet restrictions. Since then, she has continued to write online about Chinese society and she contributed an essay to PEN’s 2013 report ‘Creativity and Constraint in Today’s China’. She is director of ICPC’s Youth Committee.

More worrying is the case of seventy-year-old veteran dissident journalist Gao Yu, who went missing on 23 April 2014, when she last made contact with Deutsche Welle, the German international broadcaster for which she is a special contributor. She was writing a column, due on 26 April, entitled ‘Party Nature vs Human Nature’, about the new leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and its internal conflicts. The article was never filed and when Gao did not attend a Tiananmen Square memorial event on 26 April, friends reported her disappearance. Gao had also been due to travel to Hong Kong to speak at the ICPC’s annual awards ceremony on 3 May.

Gao’s whereabouts were not known until 8 May, when officials confirmed that she was being held by Beijing police in a criminal investigation for allegedly ‘leaking state secrets abroad’. According to Gao’s lawyer, the charges are believed to focus on a secret text known as ‘Document Number 9’, which Gao had written about last year. The paper is said to detail the government’s vision of pushing economic reforms while maintaining ideological controls over civil society and freedom of the press.

The same day, Gao appeared in a televised ‘confession’ broadcast on an early morning news programme, admitting that she had ‘threatened national interests’. She said she was ‘deeply remorseful’ for her actions and ‘willing to accept legal punishment’. Her ‘confession’ is believed to have been extracted under duress, accentuating concerns for her wellbeing.

Gao was formerly the editor-in-chief of Economics Weekly before being barred from working in publishing. She was imprisoned for over a year after supporting the Tiananmen Square protests and spent a further five and a half years in prison from 1993 to 1999 for ‘providing state secrets to parties outside [China’s] borders’ in a series of political and economic articles published in Hong Kong. Despite this harassment Gao continued to work in China as a freelance journalist under considerable restrictions. She also contributed an essay to ‘Creativity and Constraint in Today’s China’ and is an honorary member of Czech PEN.

Readers might like to send appeals protesting the arrest of journalist Gao Yu; urging that she is protected from ill-treatment and granted access to her family and a lawyer of her choice; expressing concern that she has been shown ‘confessing’ on state television in contravention of her right to a fair trial as enshrined in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which includes the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty and not to be compelled to confess guilt; calling for her immediate and unconditional release if held for her legitimate professional activities; and protesting the recent crackdown on government critics. Appeals to be addressed to:

His Excellency Liu Xiaoming
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China
49–51 Portland Place
London W1B 1JL
Fax: +44 (0) 20 7636 2981

His Excellency President Xi Jinping Guojia Zhuxi
Fax: +86 10 6238 1025

His Excellency Premier Li Keqiang Guojia Zongli
Fax: +86 10 6238 1025

Fu Zhenghua, Director, Beijing Public Security Bureau
Fax: +86 10 6524 2927

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