Join our Mailing List

"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China: Tiananmen’s Unhealed Wounds

May 14, 2009

Human Rights Watch
May 13, 2009

For Immediate Release

China: Tiananmen’s Unhealed Wounds
Two Decades on, Continuing Censorship and Persecution of Survivors and Critics

New York, May 13 - Twenty years after the Chinese
army killed untold numbers of unarmed civilians
in Beijing and other cities on and around June
3-4, 1989, the Chinese government continues to
victimize survivors, victims’ families, and
others who challenge the official version of
events, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch today releases "The Tiananmen
Legacy," an assessment of the continuing impact
of Tiananmen and a multimedia feature on the
crackdown’s 20th anniversary, which can be
accessed at

The Chinese Communist Party initially justified
its actions during the bloody crackdown as a
necessary response to a "counter-revolutionary
incident," later revising its characterization of
the event as a "political disturbance."

"The government’s ongoing efforts to censor
history, crush dissent, and harass survivors
stands in stark contrast to the impressive
economic and social developments in China in
recent decades," said Sophie Richardson, Asia
advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The
Chinese government should recognize that 20 years
of denial and repression have only caused the
wounds of Tiananmen to fester, not heal.”

The Chinese government has always refused to
provide a list of those killed, "disappeared," or
imprisoned, and has failed to publish verifiable casualty figures.

The Tiananmen Mothers, a group of mothers and
parents of students and civilian victims, has
established a list of more than 150 people who
were killed after the army opened fire on
civilians. The government has also consistently
quashed all public discussion of June 1989, while
persecuting those who participated in the
demonstrations or who publicly question the government’s version of events.

Today, the detention of Liu Xiaobo
( )
represents the most visible symbol of the
government’s ongoing hostility to those involved
in the 1989 protests and to any form of organized
opposition. One of China’s best-known
intellectual critics, Liu spent two years in
prison for his role in supporting the Tiananmen
students. Liu also prevented more bloodshed by
successfully negotiating with the army the
evacuation of the last remaining students on
Tiananmen Square in the early morning of June 4.
A regular interviewee of international media and
scholars on June 4, Liu spent another three years
in re-education-through-labor from 1996 to 1999
for a series of public calls questioning the
one-party system, and was then put under a loose
form of house arrest. On December 8, 2008, Liu
was arrested once more on suspicion of being one
of the organizers of a bold public petition for
democracy and the rule of law titled Charter ’08
( ).

The text of Charter ’08 included a direct
reference to the June 4 events, as an example of
the "long trail of human rights disasters" caused
by the Communist Party of China’s monopoly on
power. Despite an international outcry, Liu
continues to be held without charges

"Liu Xiaobo epitomizes how the Chinese government
has responded to Tiananmen in particular and
peaceful critiques in general: by stifling them,"
said Richardson. "At the same time, Liu is
emblematic of the tireless tenacity and courage
of some Chinese citizens to fight for truth,
justice, and democracy in the face of adversity.”

Beginning in April 1989, workers, students, and
others began to gather in Beijing’s Tiananmen
Square and in other cities. Most were
demonstrating peacefully for a pluralistic
political system. When the protests had not
dispersed by late May, the government declared
martial law, and then authorized the army to use
lethal force to clear the streets of protesters.
In the process of fulfilling that order, the army
shot and killed untold numbers of unarmed
civilians, many of whom were not connected to the
protests. In Beijing, some citizens attacked army
convoys and burned vehicles as the military moved
through the city. Following the civilian
killings, the Chinese government implemented a
national crackdown and arrested thousands of
people on “counter-revolutionary” charges, and on
criminal charges including arson and disrupting social order.

The Chinese government was globally condemned for
its crackdown on the protesters, and several
countries imposed sanctions, including the
ongoing European Union arms embargo. The Chinese
government has rebuffed all efforts to seek a
re-examination of the events of June 1989.

In 1990, then-President Jiang Zemin dismissed
international condemnation of the Tiananmen
Massacre as "much ado about nothing." In January
2001, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao
defended the use of deadly force against unarmed
civilians in June 1989 as “…timely and resolute
measures…extremely necessary for the stability and development of the country.”

"The Chinese government has made it virtually
impossible for people to know about this major
event in their own recent history," said
Richardson. "And that should raise profound
concerns globally about the government’s capacity
for manipulating information and evading accountability.”

To read the Human Rights Watch report, "The
Tiananmen Legacy," and to view a multimedia
feature on the 20th anniversary of the crackdown, please visit:

For a PDF copy of the report, please contact:

For more information, please contact:
In Hong Kong, Phelim Kine, (English, Mandarin): +852-9074-3179 (mobile)
In Prague, Sophie Richardson (English, Mandarin): +1-917-721-7473 (mobile)
In London, Brad Adams (English): +44-20-7713-2767; or +44-79-0872-8333 (mobile)
In Brussels, Reed Brody (English, French,
Spanish, Portuguese): +32-2-737-1489; or +32-498-625786 (mobile)
In New York, Minky Worden (English, Cantonese): +1-917-497-0540 (mobile)
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank