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Warning to all

Matthias von Hein, Sarah BerningApril 30, 2014

The disappearance of a renowned Chinese journalist ahead of the 25th anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Massacre is no coincidence and should be taken as a warning, according to Chinese media experts.

Cinesche Journalistin Gao Yu
Image: MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images

"I went over to her house on Tuesday morning. No one opened the door," Yao Jianfu, a political scientist and former cadre of the Chinese Communist Party, told DW. Up to that point, he hadn't heard anything from his friend and renowned journalist, Gao Yu, in days.

"Even the neighborhood committee and the local police say they don't know anything but that they will inform me as soon as they have information."

Gao Yu (pictured above) did not show up to a group of intellectuals to commemorate the events of 1989 over the past weekend, despite having RSVPed. Members of the group said neither she nor her 42-year-old son Zhao Meng could be contacted via telephone. Observers say that her son, normally very active on various social media platforms, had not been seen online in days.


This wouldn't be the first time that Chinese authorities have "intervened" with known critics before the anniversary of a historical incident deemed as sensitive by the country's leadership.

Last year, at least six activists were detained ahead of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre on June 4. The 70-year-old Gao Yu was one of them. She told DW she had been escorted out of her home in Beijing in the early hours of June 4 in a police car, to "get some fresh air," as she had been told. She was released on the evening of the same day. Speaking with DW after the event, she said she had not been mistreated. But run-ins with police were nothing new for Gao Yu. In the 1990s, she spent a total of seven years in prison for her work as a journalist. The charges against her included "publishing state secrets."

Gao Yu has been a regular contributor to DW. Her last article was published online on April 23 and was about the fall of the reformed party leader Hu Yaobang in 1986. His death in April of 1989 is considered to be what sparked China's 50-day democracy movement.

Bloody military operation - 25 years ago

What began as a student movement soon attracted Chinese from all walks of life; millions of people marched on Beijing to demand more democracy and civil rights. For seven weeks, they occupied the Tiananmen Square, in the heart of the country's capital. After a drawn-out internal party power struggle, the party leadership approved the deployment of heavily armed troops and tanks to the site on June 3 and 4, 1989. Hundreds to thousands of civilians were killed when the military randomly opened fire on unarmed protesters. The Chinese government has still not released any figures on the real death toll of the massacre.

Silke Ballweg, press officer for Reporters without Borders, told DW the Chinese authorities still continued to suppress all memories of what happened in 1989. She said it was possible that the authorities had disappeared Gao.

Military and Police at Tiananmen Square in 2013
There is a heavy police and military presence at Tiananmen Square around the anniversary of the massacreImage: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Clear warning

The disappearance of figure as prominent as Gao Yu so soon before the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, according to Ballweg, should be seen as a warning to all journalists and bloggers to exercise restraint in the publication of their opinions of June 4 in the coming weeks.

According to Ballweg's assessment, the situation for journalists and other members of the media has significantly worsened under the country's new leadership, which has been in power for a year.