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A dangerous memory

Juan Ju / gdMay 19, 2014

As the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on student-led protests in Tiananmen Square approaches, Chinese authorities have stepped up efforts to silence dissent by detaining lawyers, activists and journalists.

A paramilitary soldier patrols near visitors posing for souvenir pictures at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, November 1, 2013 (Photo: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
Image: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

"Every time I hear someone knocking at my door, I fear they have come to arrest me," Hu Jia, a Chinese human rights activist and winner of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, told DW. The Beijing-based activist has been under house arrest since January 17. On that same day nine years ago, the then General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Zhao Ziyang, was forced to step down for his involvement in the violent crackdown of student protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

"Ever since I laid flowers in Tiananmen Square in 2004 for the victims of the massacre, I have been either detained or put under house arrest every year," Hu adds. But Hu is not the only one facing trouble with the Chinese authorities: In recent weeks, a number of dissidents and activists have been either arrested or detained. The latest case reported by the Western media is the arrest of 62-year-old blogger Xiang Nanfu accused of spreading "false claims" on the Boxun website. Xiang's confession was aired on state television.

Gao Yu
The 70-year-old Gao Yu has worked for DW for yearsImage: picture alliance/AP Photo

On May 8, Chinese officials paraded journalist Gao Yu on TV in a similar way. The 70-year-old, who was a regular contributor to DW, was arrested on charges of "leaking state secrets." That same week Hong Kong-based publisher, Yao Wentian, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on "smuggling" charges.

The 73-year-old wanted to publish a critical book about Xi Jinping titled "China's godfather," written by Yu Jie, an author in exile. Two days earlier, prominent civil rights lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, and other Chinese intellectuals were arrested for attending a private memorial service for the victims of the 1989 riots.

Security and intimidation

Five years ago, Teng Biao, one of the most prominent Chinese civil rights lawyers, participated in a similar ceremony. "I was banned from teaching at the University of Politics and Law in Beijing, but nothing else happened," Teng told DW. "But many arrests this year are extraordinary and shocking. They are aimed at intimidating the Chinese people. The arrests of the prominent figures show the CPC doesn't care much about international pressure and criticism. At the same time, it demonstrates that the government is apprehensive of the situation prior to the Tiananmen Square anniversary on June 4, which it fears might get out of control," Teng added.

Hu Jia, who is also one of the organizers of the "Back to Tiananmen" event, believes the suppress wants to suppress any sign of a commemoration of the anniversary. The organizers have asked people to wear black T- shirts and gather at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Hu, who is making use of the Internet to mobilize citizens, believes online activities are likely to be used as evidence of his "crimes."

Police have beefed up security measures in Beijing following a series of deadly attacks by alleged Uighur extremists in Xinjiang and other parts of the country. In recent weeks, the security forces have conducted several "anti-terror" exercises and hundreds of armed vehicles have been deployed to Beijing's various major intersections. "After the violent incidents, the government can justify these security measures," said Hu Jia.