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US Congress Marks 24th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square Protests

FILE - The bodies of dead civilians lie among mangled bicycles near Beijing's Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989.
FILE - The bodies of dead civilians lie among mangled bicycles near Beijing's Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989.
Cindy Saine
Several prominent Chinese dissidents and human rights activists called Monday for a tougher U.S. stance on ongoing human rights abuses in China, at a hearing held to mark the 24th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.  The hearing comes just days before President Barack Obama is set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

On June 3rd and 4th, 1989, the Chinese military opened fire on unarmed civilian protesters in and around Beijng's Tiananmen Square, and ran over many others with tanks, killing hundreds.  Across the world, many remember an iconic photo of one courageous individual facing down a Chinese tank. After the massacre, the Chinese government arrested thousands of people and imprisoned them on charges of "counterrevolution."   Republican Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey said the massacre was unfortunately not just a one-time event, but that persecution in China continues.

"China today is the torture capital of the world. Its victims include religious believers, ethnic minorities, human rights defenders like Chen Guangcheng and Gao Zhisheng, and political dissidents," he said.

China denies human rights abuses and calls the events witnessed 24 years ago a "counterrevolutionary riot."

Several survivors of the massacre who now live in the United States attended a hearing of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee Monday in Washington, including Wei Jingshing, Chai Ling and Yang Jianli.  Yang said the hearing could not come at a more timely moment, just days ahead of a visit by Chinese President Xi to California.

"This is a crucial moment to signal to the leadership of China that the quality of its relationship to the United States largely depends on how it treats its own citizens," he said.

Yang said a failure to speak up on human rights abuses by President Obama would send a strong message that the Chinese government can continue its current policies of repressing political dissent.  Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch also called on President Obama to speak out. She accused the Chinese government of seeking to expunge the Tiananmen Square massacre from the history books.  Richardson called on the new leadership in China to acknowledge the massacre and to allow family members of those killed and imprisoned to commemorate the events without fear of persecution.

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