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'Tiananmen Mothers' Continue Quest for Justice - 2004-06-02


Fifteen years after hundreds of mostly student, pro-democracy activists were killed when the Chinese government cracked down on protests in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square, mothers of those killed are still waiting for an account of what happened on June 4, 1989.

China's communist leaders have made every effort to silence the group known as Tiananmen Mothers before the 15th anniversary of the violent crackdown, in which soldiers used machine guns and tanks against hundreds of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators.

Three of the Mothers group leaders were detained in March. Authorities first denied the arrests, but later said they had been detained for engaging in what were described as illegal activities sponsored by overseas forces.

Their alleged crime was the production of a video disc in which they stated their demands to the government. These include the right to mourn publicly for their relatives killed in the crackdown and a full and public accounting of the incident.

The video, which is banned in China, has been distributed by international human rights advocates and shows relatives seeking redress for their loved ones' death or disappearances. In it appears Ding Zilin, a retired university professor whose teenage son was shot and killed by government troops as they advanced on Tiananmen Square 15-years ago. She said she considers herself fortunate to have found his body later at a morgue. She said that many others have never gotten a confirmation that their sons and daughters were dead.

?I appeal for more attention to the fate of the June 4 missing persons,? she added. ?I feel that these families of June 4 missing persons are in greater agony than I who lost my son.?

Authorities warned Mrs. Ding and other Tiananmen Mothers to stop their activities after they were released from detention in April. Agents seized copies of their videos, t-shirts and other materials.

The women have been under what advocates describe as house arrest. Nicholas Becquelin with the New York Human Rights in China group said, ?All their calls are monitored and they have told them not to do specific things such as talking to other activists, talking with foreign media, talking with human rights organizations.?

The government says it will not reappraise its handling of the 1989 protests, and this week said the crackdown played a "good role" in stabilizing what he called "political turmoil." Authorities repeatedly say China's economic expansion would not have happened if the government had backed down from the protesters.

Plain clothes police heavily patrol Tiananmen Square, ready to prevent any attempt to commemorate the 15th anniversary.

Analysts say pressure by groups like the Tiananmen Mothers may eventually lead to some acknowledgment of the deaths during the crackdown, such as a plaque placed on the square, but most agree that will not come soon.

Fang Lizhi is an astrophysics professor who was exiled to the United States after China accused him of instigating the 1989 protests. He said that the Communist Party fears for its survival if it accounts for the killings.

?But in China, everything connects. The many small events can become large ones,? he said. ?So, if they open, and give some explanations about young students dying, it may become bigger and bigger. They are afraid that will bring a whole collapse.?

As the years have passed, the places where the killing took place have changed. The Beijing government has been on an intensive campaign to showcase its development, bulldozing entire neighborhoods along the routes to Tiananmen Square.

In her video, Ding Zilin says clues about the June 4 episode are being erased.

?Beijing is undergoing a makeover in preparation for the 2008 Olympics,? she said. ?Therefore, it is extremely difficult to find even just one trace. Even so, we will keep going.?

For now, the Tiananmen Mothers are continuing their quest for justice. Mrs. Ding and others are planning to file a legal complaint against former premier Li Peng, who was directly involved in the crackdown.

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