Rights advocates urge reform on 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square uprising News
Rights advocates urge reform on 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square uprising

[JURIST] Human rights and democracy advocates on Thursday called on the Chinese government to investigate the 1989 uprising in Beijing's Tiananmen Square [BBC backgrounder], to release people imprisoned in connection with the uprising and human rights advocacy, to provide an accurate count of those killed in the governments response to the uprising, and to accept the reforms outlined in the Charter 08 [text] proposal. Writing in the Los Angeles Times [media website] Wang Dan, formerly the "most wanted" student leader of the uprising, said [op-ed] that while the economic progress in China since the uprising has benefited many Chinese, "economic growth has not led to liberty, a free press or democracy." Wang said that China's economic success has been used to "justify one-party rule" and resulted in a political system "riddled with corruption" that must be adapted to accommodate the rule of law and basic human rights. Wang and eight other exiled student leaders called on the Chinese people [AFP report] during a press conference in Washington to push for political reforms which they said are "currently turning in the direction of the people." Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged the government to publish verifiable casualty figures [press release], saying that "20 years of denial and repression have only caused the wounds of Tiananmen to fester, not heal." US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile] released a statement [text] Wednesday saying that China's new-found role as a global leader means that it should "examine openly the darker events of its past and provide a public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, both to learn and to heal." On Tuesday the US House of Representatives [official website] passed a resolution [text] commemorating the 20th anniversary of the uprising, calling for an investigation into the violent response, and calling for the release of political prisoners. Chinese police restricted access [AP report] to Tiananmen Square and arrested or restricted the movement [AI report] of activists to prevent public commemoration of the anniversary.

The Tiananmen protests began in April of 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 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. Last June, HRW urged Chinese authorities [JURIST report] to release remaining political prisoners in advance of the 2008 Summer Olympics, and to reverse its "counterrevolutionary rebellion" classification of the 1989 protests, which the government has consistently refused to do [AFP report].