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Tiananmen Mothers Mourn Massacre Victims as China Censors Online Tributes

Members of the Tiananmen Mothers victims' group lay offerings for their loved ones at Beijing's Wan'an Cemetery, closely watched by around 30 plainclothes police, June 4, 2021. Credit: Tiananmen Mothers
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Qiao Long | Radio Free Asia

Relatives of people killed in the 1989 Tiananmen massacre were escorted by state security police on Friday to pay their respects to those who died in the bloody crackdown by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Around 10 members of the Tiananmen Mothers victims’ group laid offerings for their loved ones at Beijing’s Wan’an Cemetery, closely watched by around 30 plainclothes police.

In the brief ceremony that took less than an hour, police kept their distance, and didn’t interrupt proceedings, mourners told RFA.

Tiananmen Mothers members Zhang Xianling, Huang Xuefen, You Weijie and Huang Jinping were among the mourners, and were escorted through the north gate of the cemetery by plainclothes police, Zhang told RFA after the ceremony.

“We got to the cemetery some time between 9.30 and 10.00 a.m., and we began prayers and offerings at 10.00 a.m.,” she said. “Then the family members made their individual offerings to their loved ones.”

“There were probably about 30 police there today, all plainclothes, scattered around the cemetery in twos and threes,” she said. “There were around a dozen of us. I don’t remember there being so many people around in previous years.”

Tiananmen Mothers spokeswoman You Weijie gave a eulogy to those who died when the PLA deployed tanks and automatic weapons against mostly unarmed civilians.

“The eight relatives you have come here to mourn today were in the flower of their youth, and driven by patriotic fervor,” You told the group. “They were brutally murdered, and their young lives sacrificed.”

“As their relatives, we will never forget this tragedy, this pain that will never heal,” she said. “All we can do is carry our grief deep within, wipe away our tears, and keep pleading for justice.”

On-line silence after police warning

Online, there was scant sign that the majority of China’s population remembered, or was willing to be seen remembering, the bloody end to the 1989 student-led protest movement on Tiananmen Square and across China.

Dissidents and rights activists who have previously been vocal on overseas social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter were silent, presumably warned of posting by state security police.

A resident of Qufu city surnamed Kong said June 4 is a key date for China’s “stability maintenance” machinery, which is tasked with preventing public displays of dissent or actions that could threaten the CCP’s grip on power.

“It’s obvious that there is a huge amount of domestic surveillance happening,” Kong said. “There are hardly any candle emoticons on WeChat.”

“In previous years, there was always the odd image that [the censors] missed, but there was nothing at all this year,” he said.

“Internet censorship is highly effective now, and it is particularly so this year.”

Kong said some of his associates are currently under “stability maintenance” measures, starting last week.

“Some have been forced to leave their hometowns to work elsewhere … some by the state security police, who have been bundling people away on trips,” he said.

“They are being warned to keep quiet and not to cause any trouble.”

Enforced ‘vacations’ for activists

Nanjing-based citizen journalist Sun Lin is currently on an enforced “vacation,” while Hunan-based online activist Mididixiang is under close surveillance, RFA has learned.

Dozens of other activists across China have been forced to take supervized “vacations” ahead of the 32nd anniversary of the massacre.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the CCP to “take responsibility” for the massacre, and to permit public commemorations to take place.

“The government has never accepted responsibility for the massacre or held any officials legally accountable for the killings,” it said.

“It has been unwilling to conduct an investigation into the events or release data on those who were killed, injured, forcibly disappeared, or imprisoned.”

The Tiananmen Mothers have documented the details of 202 people who were killed during the suppression of the movement in Beijing and other cities, HRW said.

Both HRW and HRIC called for a concerted international response to China’s ongoing rights abuses, including the mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking people in camps in Xinjiang.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would “continue to stand with the people of China as they demand that their government respect universal human rights.”  

“We honor the sacrifices of those killed 32 years ago, and the brave activists who carry on their efforts today in the face of ongoing government repression,” he said.

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