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Tiananmen Square massacre still a taboo subject in press 19th anniversary

Blisfully unaware: A young boy stands in Beijing's Tiananmen Square June 4, 2008 after attending the flag raising ceremony at dawn.Photo: David Gray/Reuters

Chinese media is still forbidden to refer openly to the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4, 1989. Censorship is also extremely severe on the Internet.

"The Chinese authorities are trying to use the Olympic Games to make people forget what happened on June 4, 1989 in Tiananmen Square," Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said. "But the sports events and the festivities that will take place in this central Beijing square in August will not be able to erase this dark page in China’s history. It is deplorable that the Communist Party has spent the past 19 years using censorship and repression in an attempt to wipe out the memory of the Beijing Spring."

Paris-based RSF said in a statement, "While the International Olympic Committee’s executive committee meets in Athens, we ask its president, Jacques Rogge, to call for the release of prisoners of conscience before the start of the Beijing Olympics. Those freed should include journalist Shi Tao, who is serving a 10-year sentence for sending an email about the Tiananmen Square events."

RSF, which gave a news conference in Athens on May 30 about the games, recently revealed that an IOC memo defended the choice of Tiananmen Square as the venue for an Olympic torch ceremony on the grounds that it was "one of the world’s most famous public squares." IOC also described the decision to start the Olympic marathon in Tiananmen Square as a matter for the Chinese. "IOC is a sports organisation," the memo said. "It is not appropriate for us to dictate the usage of sites that may have an historical and political significance for large numbers of people."

The Chinese people are still prevented from making free use of the Internet to find out what happened on June 4, 1989 in Beijing and other Chinese cities. Any attempt to search for "Liu Si," the Chinese abbreviation for June 4, on the Baidu or Sohu search engines is completely blocked and results in the connection to the site being reinitialised.

If the same search is made on Sina or, the overwhelming majority of results are not about the 1989’s bloody events but about Tiananmen Square as an historic place. The links to articles overtly about June 4, 1989 are blocked. When you click on these links, the connection is reinitialised.

No reference to June 4 is allowed in the press without specific permission from the government. Several senior members of the staff of the newspaper Chengdu Wanbao were fired in June 2007 for permitting the publication of an announcement on its website paying homage to the courageous mothers of June 4—a reference to the mothers of the Tiananmen Square victims who defend their memory.

Shi Tao of the daily Dangdai Shang Bao (Contemporary Business News) is one of the journalists and cyber-dissidents who are in prison because of the stance they have taken on the massacre. Shi was convicted of "illegally divulging state secrets abroad" on April 30, 2005 because he forwarded an internal email message about Tiananmen Square anniversary coverage to a friend based outside the country.

Shi acknowledged forwarding the message, which warned of the dangers of social unrest and destabilisation linked to the return of dissidents to Beijing for the anniversary, but he disputed its confidential nature. Since his arrest on November 24, 2004 in the northeastern city of Taiyuan, he has been held in a detention centre in the southern city of Changsha, where he is forced to work.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) has reported a reinforcement of the normal police presence in Tiananmen Square on the eve of the anniversary. Surveillance had also been stepped up outside the homes of several dissidents. Chen Xi, a dissident based in the in the central city of Guiyang, was prevented from boarding a flight to Beijing, where he had intended to participate in activities in solidarity with the victims.

"I could not go to Beijing but I will nonetheless protest at a distance to show our disapproval of the government," he wrote on the overseas Chinese website Boxun. He said he planned to organised a silent gathering and commemorative activities on the Internet.

The same Boxun article also reported that surveillance of Qi Zhiyong, who lost a leg during the repression, was stepped up three weeks ago.

Ding Zilin, the mother of one of the massacre victims, posted an open letter to the authorities on the Tiananmen Mothers website ( calling for the national flag to be flown at half mast in honour of the Tiananmen victims as it was for the victims of the recent earthquake.

Date posted: June 5, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 570