This year is one of the most difficult years China has encountered during this time the mysterious and deadly disease, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) spread around the whole country and to many parts of the world.
Ms. Ding Zilin, the leading representative of the Tiananmen Mothers, whose 17-year-old son was killed in the pro-democracy movement, compared the SARS outbreak to the June Fourth massacre in 1989. She said it exposed the same problems that the students fought against in 1989.
“The loss of life with the SARS epidemic was due to human error and lack of transparency of the Chinese government, just as the loss of life at Tiananmen was. The difference is that this time, not only were the people on the frontline and their families hurt, but the virus also spread to the whole world. This time, even if you were hiding in your home, you could be hit. This is just another group of victims of authoritarian rule,” Ding related during a telephone interview conducted in May by the
South China Morning Post (SCMP), a local English newspaper in Hong Kong.
“Internationally, people and countries have started to focus on the economic and political developments in China, but are paying less attention to human rights and democracy. Politicians globally are also starting to forget that China still does not have political rights and civil rights. But we cannot forget,” she said.
Despite the fact that President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are widely viewed as a newer generation of leaders with more liberal visions, they have yet to show any sign of vindicating the cause of the pro-democracy student movement in 1989, not to speak of meeting any of the specific demands of the victims and the families. In fact, the Chinese authorities pay more attention to cracking down on the internet in restricting freedom of speech and freedom of expression in China.
While many people placed high hopes in Hu and Wen, Ding believes that unless China carries out political reforms, there will not be any real solution to the nationwide human rights violations. “I hope the Chinese government will have the courage to learn from history and implement political reforms,” she said. She called on Chinese people everywhere, particularly on the mainland, to stand up for themselves and fight for justice.
Gaining support from each other in Asia
Despite the fact that the Tiananment Mothers’ cause has yet to be realized, this year is still meaningful to the mothers and families in another way. Having joined the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) in October 2002, the Tiananmen Mothers received much encouragement from AFAD and its members. The mothers or the families of the victims themselves find it very difficult to establish direct communication with AFAD or its members because of language barriers and other reasons. In view of these constraints, the Tiananmen Mothers Campaign group in Hong Kong serves as a bridge to fill in the gap between Ding and AFAD or its members. On the 14th anniversary of the June Fourth massacre, it was exciting for the Tiananmen Mothers to receive various solidarity messages from AFAD, AFAD members and
FEDEFAM. We, the Tiananmen Mothers Campaign in Hong Kong, then translated all the messages from English to Chinese and conveyed them to Ding so that she could feel the real support and pass them on to other families and victims. Every word in the solidarity letters visualized a strong support and encouragement from groups and families of the disappeared sharing the same fate with them. Every little expression of support means a lot to the aging mothers and other families as it is not easy for them to reach the outside world due to the blockage of information.
Serving as a bridge between AFAD and the Tiananmen Mothers, the Tiananmen Mothers Campaign group in Hong Kong also acts supportively for the cause of AFAD member groups that have the same concern – fighting against enforced or involuntary disappearances. On April 23, the campaign group picketed in front of the Indian Consul General’s office in Hong Kong in support to the week-long hunger strike organized by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) in Kashmir. Moreover the activity was an expression of our concern over the human rights violations of Indian authorities in the disputed territory of Kashmir. Some other AFAD members also organized picket actions to echo APDP’s demands. This was the first concerted action the campaign group ever experienced after the Tiananmen Mothers became an AFAD member.
While concerns over Kashmir may seem very far away from China in Asia, the picket action attracted the attention of a journalist of a local newspaper
SCMP who tried to dig into the story of why and how the Tiananmen Mothers grouped themselves together, why they joined AFAD and when did the Tiananmen Mothers Campaign form themselves . An article about our movement, titled “Behind the News the Legacy of Tiananmen: Mothers’ Courage,” was published in the
SCMP on June 3. The article attracted considerable public attention. Some readers wrote back to the
SCMP echoing the cause of the Tiananmen Mothers. There is an old Chinese saying—”to turn grief into courage,” and these mothers have given us a very good example, said one reader. “It is moving to hear about freedom fighters in Beijing who stand up despite overwhelming odds. In some ways, however, it is even more exciting when people around us, in our own city, are involved in this long campaign,” said another. What is more encouraging is that our message has reached beyond the Hong Kong community, where the paper’s circulation was based. One of the responses came from a reader who resided in mainland China.
Apart from organizing concerted actions for our cause against enforced or involuntary disappearances, voicing out jointly against injustice is also a value against all odds for us. When the Indonesian government carried out the Integrated Military Operation in Aceh Province and after
KontraS and Ikohi, member and candidate- member of AFAD, voiced out their criticisms against the policy, the offices of
KontraS and Ikohi were raided by armed groups with military backgrounds resulting in physical damage and injuries. AFAD members condemned the raid and pressed the Indonesian government to face it and launch an investigation on the assault and raid. It is essentially important that AFAD members always act in solidarity. We are not just on our own but can obtain support from others.
Receiving support from over 22,000 people
As in every other year, from late May to early June this year was the busiest time of the year for our movement, the Tiananmen Mothers Campaign in Hong Kong. In late May, Ding and other victims and families of victims issued two open letters through the Human Rights in China’s press releases addressing the new Chinese leadership and the Supreme People’s Procurate respectively. They reiterated their demands for having dialogue with the government and the new Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao so as to review the June Fourth Incident and ask for justice. Again, they demanded the Supreme People’s Procurate pressing for four unambiguous goals—to call for a thorough investigation on the June Fourth incident, to punish the guilty, to vindicate the wronged and to provide compensation for the victims and their family members.
On June 2, we mailed publicly, the above-mentioned open letter addressed to the Supreme People’s Procurate of the People’s Republic of China along with 22,381 signatures solicited in Hong Kong since 2001 supporting the cause of the Tiananmen Mothers. The Tiananmen Mothers stated clearly their goal to fight against any possibility of impunity given to human right perpetrators in 1989. The mailing action attracted some media coverage.
On June 4, we organized two stalls during the candle light vigil held annually in Victoria Park commemorating the 14th anniversary of the 1989 massacre. At the time the SARS epidemic had faded away, an audio taped message of Ding was played publicly to an estimated number of over 50,000 people. While Beijing, where Ding lives, was still in the shadow of the deadly disease, Ding expressed her deep concern over such a public gathering which always gathers a big crowd . Yet, she praised the Hong Kong people’s determination and perseverance for freedom and democracy for the Chinese people. “To us, this is not only a source of comfort to our hearts but also a source of spiritual courage,” she said.
As in previous years, we distributed a great many petition cards to the participants in the candle light vigil. These cards were intended to help the public learn more about the Tiananmen Mothers and gather their support for the mothers’ demands to the Chinese authorities. Our publications were also well- received this year. A large number of copies as well as campaign T-shirts were sold .
Hong Kong - under the threat of diminishing of freedoms
We believe this success was in part, due to the pending legislation of implementing Article 23 of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution in Hong Kong under the “one country, two- system” policy, which has stirred a vibrant public discussion over the threat of restricting the freedom of expression, of association and free flow of information proposed in the legislation. The National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill, the drafted law for implementing Article 23, has not only raised public awareness but also a huge concern from the international community over its possible damage to the human rights situation in Hong Kong. On July 1, the 6th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China, over 500,000 people marched the streets to protest against the legislation as well as to press our firm demand for a promised universal suffrage in the direct election of the Chief Executive. Feeling her heart linked tightly to the hearts of many Hong Kong people, Ding issued an open letter in great support of our pro-democracy demands.
Hong Kong, a place enjoying more freedom and democracy under the policy of “one country, two- system” as guaranteed by the Basic Law, has instead been encountering the diminishing of many fundamental freedoms and human rights. Many argue that there should be no way for the Chinese government to state that it is moving ahead towards the development into a more liberal society while Hong Kong, on the contrary, moves backward. If it were ever allowed to happen, it would definitely set an extremely bad example for the whole society of mainland China. As Ding said, “Having gone through so many years of bloodshed and tears , we have understood deeply the preciousness of freedom. When you lose freedom, you lose everything!” At the time of fighting for the cause against enforced or involuntary disappearances, we keep on defending our own fundamental human rights, which could be devastated by the National Security Bill, pushed vigorously by the Hong Kong government.