Today's 24th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre was remembered at a congressional hearing about human rights abuse in China held by Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04), head of the global human rights subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"Today--and this week--the world remembers the dream that was and is the "Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989" and deeply honors the sacrifice endured by an extraordinarily brave group of pro-democracy Chinese women and men who dared to demand fundamental human rights for all Chinese," said Smith, who is also the co-chair of the Congressional-Executive China Commission. "Twenty four years ago today, the world watched in awe and wonder as it had since mid-April of '89 as hundreds of thousands of mostly young people peacefully petitioned the Chinese government to reform and democratize. China seemed to be the next impending triumph for freedom and democracy especially after the collapse of the dictatorships in the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. But when the Peoples Liberation Army poured into and around the Square on June 3rd, the wonder of Tiananmen turned to shock, tears, fear and helplessness." Click here to read Chairman Smith's opening remarks.
The hearing, entitled the "Tragic Anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests and Massacre" featured Tiananmen survivors and witnesses and human rights leaders: Wei Jingsheng, President of the Wei Jingsheng Foundation, ex-political prisoner sentenced to more than 18 years by the Chinese government; Chai Ling, Founder, All Girls Allowed, Tiananmen Square student leader; Dr. Yang Jianli, Ph.D., President, Initiatives for China, former Communist Party official, Tiananmen massacre witness, ex- political prisoner 2002-2007; David Aikman, Time Magazine's bureau chief when Tiananmen Square occurred, and Sophie Richardson, Ph.D., China Director, Human Rights Watch. Click here to read the witnesses testimony OR to watch a video of the hearing.
"Mr. Chairman and honorable members, twenty-four years ago today one of the most brutal assaults by any government in modern history on peacefully protesting protesters began around 10.00 p.m. in the evening, Beijing time," said Aikman, then Time Magazine's bureau chief. "By the time the assault was over several hours later, hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent civilians, including students, had been murdered by bullets of the Chinese People's Liberation Army or crushed under the tracks of tanks and armored personnel carriers. How do we know? Because scores of Chinese and foreign eyewitnesses photographed the event and reported on it. I was one of them."
Wei said that the current widespread view of the Chinese people is different from the view more than twenty years ago when the most widely held view was to ask for the redress massacre from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Today, he said, more than half of the people support an investigation of the people responsible for the crime, and a demand for the CCP to admit the massacre occurred.
"Every year before the anniversary of June 4, the Chinese government is very nervous," Wei said. "To prevent people taking to the streets, the regime dispatches a large number of police, and puts dissidents under surveillance and house arrest. This action alone results in a lot of pressure over the Communist Party. The main cause of this pressure is due to the public opinion of the Chinese people; the pressure of public opinion from the international community is another important reason. Over the years these two pressures have become important reasons for the poor image of the Chinese government both inside China and internationally."
Human Rights Watch said the Chinese government should issue an immediate amnesty for those still imprisoned on charges related to the June 3, 1989 incident and launch an independent review of their cases to determine possible miscarriages of justice in terms of violations of due legal process. The organization also said the government should absolve and compensate those individuals determined to have been unfairly or illegally imprisoned, immediately permit the unimpeded return of Chinese citizens exiled due to their connections to the events of June 1989 and respect and enforce citizens' rights to freedom of speech and expression and cease the detention and harassment of individuals who challenge the official account of the events of June 1989.
"I was there, with my last five thousand students standing in the Square, surrounded by tanks and troops," said Chai. "We stood until the last hour when we had to leave the Square, about 5 to 6 am on the morning of June 4th. There was much loss, death, injuries, and imprisonment for all sides: students, citizens, and soldiers. It is a wound that even 24 years later remains wide open in so many millions of Chinese people's hearts."
Yang testified that the pro-democracy movement of 1989 stood against government corruption and stood for democracy and freedom.
"It has been one of the greatest sources of inspiration for continued struggle for these goals and even today's grassroots protests against government corruption and unjust government policies. This movement was widespread but ended in bloodshed," Yang said. "The Tiananmen massacre created a strong sense of fear and dismay of general politics among ordinary people in China. Any room for a public system of checks and balances against governmental abuse of power was taken away. It also created a sense of fear and crisis within the Communist regime because it had brought unprecedented public awareness to human rights and democracy."