By Eva Cheng
During May, the Chinese government threw at least 24 dissidents into jail and detained another 41 in a wave of arrests that followed three petitions by activists and leading intellectuals. The petitions called for the release of pro-democracy demonstrators who have been in jail since the bloody massacre in Tienanmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 1989.
Many more activists in Beijing were put under house arrest (with their phones cut off) or forcibly escorted out of the capital. Some disappeared altogether, according to news agency reports from Beijing.
According to United Press International on May 28, the police stopped a fourth petition, which was to protest against the arrests of the signatories of the earlier petitions, by arresting the five activists who were drafting it.
The South China Morning Post reported on May 22 that a political group which aims to overthrow the Communist Party, called the United Front, was recently formed in Nanjing. It also reported the formation of the China Freedom and Democracy Front in February by intellectuals and workers in the inland industrial city of Wuhan.
A target of the police offensive is Wang Dan, 25, one of the handful of leaders of the 1989 pro-democracy movement who are still openly politically active in China. Wang has been detained since May 21 — following several brief detentions this year and four years in jail after 1989 — after he had played a central role in pulling together a petition in May and two in March. The reason he was arrested was announced three days later as "disturbing social order".
Several activists were quizzed intensively on Wang and his activities while they were in recent detention.
The day following Wang's arrest, a protest was held in Hong Kong by the Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement outside the office of Xinhua News Agency — China's de facto embassy in the British colony — to press for his release. The alliance renewed its demand six days later, supported by more than 3000 who marched for three hours on the busy roads leading to Xinhua. China is to take over Hong Kong in two years, ending a century and a half of colonial rule.
In protest against the repeated arrests, Wang threatened to go on a hunger strike, according to a letter released by the New York-based group Human Rights in China (HRC) on May 23.
One petition, signed by 45 activists and intellectuals and delivered in mid-May, called on the CP to reverse the "counter-revolutionary" verdict on the 1989 protests and demanded the release of all prisoners of conscience, especially those arrested since the massacre. There is no way to ascertain how many of them there are in China today, but HRC estimated last year that thousands of activists are still detained for the 1989 protests.
At least five of its signatories have been arrested so far: Wang Dan, Liu Nianchun, Huang Xiang, Huang's wife Zhang Ling and Liu Xiaobo, according to a Reuter report on May 21. It added that Xu Liangying, 75, who drafted the petition and is one of the most respected natural scientists in China, had his mail confiscated and was put under round-the-clock surveillance by police at his Beijing home. UPI reported on May 28 that the phone lines to the homes of Xu and scientist Ding Zilin were cut. Ding, whose son Chiang Jielian was among those killed in Tienanmen in 1989, is undertaking a project to collect and publish details of the massacre.
Associated Press said on May 22 that another petition, with 56 signatures, argued for an impartial legal system — as opposed to dictatorship by party officials — as a mechanism for settling differences as well as ensuring that the freedom of speech and other constitutional rights are enforced.
The South China Morning Post reported on May 25 that all 14 drafters of the second petition had either been detained, went missing or had been questioned by police.
The same report revealed that Wang Xizhe — a prominent pro-democracy activist since 1974 who was a prisoner of conscience throughout the '80s — was sentenced to 15 days of detention in Guangzhou as a punishment for his attempt last month to appeal against the extension of his parole to 1999. He travelled to Beijing last month to dispute the extension. His original parole was to end in April.