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China: Amnesty Appeals For Prisoners On Tiananmen Anniversary

  • Ben Partridge

London, 2 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The human rights organization, Amnesty International, is calling on Chinese President Jiang Zemin to grant an amnesty to all those still imprisoned for their part in the Tiananmen pro-democracy demonstrations.

The appeal by the London-based movement coincides with the ninth anniversary this week of the June 4, 1989, crackdown in which an unknown number of students and activists were killed by Chinese troops.

Amnesty International has documented at least 250 people who are still in prison in connection with the Tiananmen protests, although it says the real figures are probably much higher.

Hundreds of other prisoners, arrested before or since 1989, are also serving sentences for "counter-revolutionary offenses." Arlette Laduguie, AI's researcher on China, says it is time for Chinese authorities to review what happened in the crackdown

Laduguie says, "We are calling on the Chinese President to grant an amnesty to all those remaining in prison for taking part in the 1989 pro-democracy protests. It's nine years after the crackdown, and it's also the 50th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and I think it would be a nice gesture if something was done in China to review what happened at that time."

Amnesty International says the Chinese authorities' handling of the legacy of 1989 is in stark contrast with the social and economic changes in the country, the smooth transition from the era of Deng Xiaoping, and the peaceful handover of Hong Kong. Amnesty notes that China has abolished crimes of "counter-revolution", and yet hundreds of prisoners of conscience are still locked up in jails across China.

Says Laduguie "Last year the Chinese parliament, the National People's Congress, removed certain types of offense, offenses of counter-revolution from the statute book. And still there are up to 2,000 people, according to the latest official figures who are still in prison after being convicted of committing counter-revolutionary offenses. We think their cases should be reviewed since these offenses are no longer crimes under the law."

Apart from the change in the law, AI says there are other compelling reasons to grant an amnesty and redress what it calls the "miscarriages of justice of 1989." It says the majority of those imprisoned at the time received blatantly unfair trials, many were tortured to extract "confessions" and received sentences out of proportion to the "crimes" they are said to have committed.

Amnesty also calls on other government leaders to continue to press Beijing to release all prisoners of conscience and not just high-profile dissidents such as Wei Jingsheng and Wang Dan .

It names three prisoners serving long sentences in connection with the Tiananmen protests, including marine biologist Chen Lantao, serving a 13-year prison sentence in Shandong Province after criticizing the suppression of the Tiananmen demonstrators. He was also accused of listening to Voice of America broadcasts.