China detains rights lawyer ahead of Tiananmen Square anniversary

[JURIST] Chinese authorites on Tuesday detained prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang on a charge of "causing a disturbance" after he attended a weekend meeting that urged an investigation into the 1989 crackdown of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. Pu Zhigiang is a leading free-speech lawyer who is well known for opposing China's system of forced labor camps before they were abolished by the government. According to the detention notice, Beijing police have "criminally detained" Pu on a charge of "causing a disturbance" and are holding him at the Beijing No. 1 Detention Centre. "These charges and detentions lay bare just how little the Chinese government's attitudes towards human rights have changed since 1989," said Sophie Richardson [press release], China Director at Human Rights Watch [advocacy website]. At least five dissidents and professors have disappeared [Reuters report] since attending the meeting, which was held to commemorate and call for an investigation into the truth of the 1989 government crackdown. "Clearly the Chinese government's efforts all these years to stamp out discussion about Tiananmen has had the opposite effect- it has generated sustained interest and determination to expose what happened," Richardson said. "Beijing should by now have the confidence to allow open debate."

The Tiananmen protests began in April 1989 with mainly students and laborers protesting the Communist Party of China. The Chinese government declared martial law in May and initiated the violent dispersal of protesters by the People's Liberation Army on June 4. The Chinese government has never publicized official figures, but the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights & Democracy [advocacy website] reported last year that unnamed sources had estimated 600 people were killed [ICHR report, in Chinese]. In 2012 Chinese authorities detained hundreds of activists [JURIST report] in Beijing marking the twenty-third anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. In 2011 the US State Department urged the Chinese government to release protestors arrested for peaceful protests in the square in 1989. Human rights and democracy advocates in 2009 called on the Chinese government [JURIST report] to investigate the 1989 uprising, provide an accurate count of those killed in the government's response to the uprising, and to accept reform outlines set forth in the Charter 08 proposal. In August 2008 Chinese authorities released [JURIST report] activist Hu Shigen [profile], sentenced to 20 years in prison for carrying out counterrevolutionary propaganda, including organizing events commemorating the uprising.

 

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