16th tiananmen crackdown anniversary : China keeps close watch on dissidents

Agence France Presse

Beijing, June 4:

Dissidents were under heavy police surveillance on the 16th anniversary today of a crackdown

on democracy activists in China, as Hong Kong prepared for the only commemoration on Chinese soil of the massacre. Relatives of the hundreds if not thousands of people who died on June 4, 1989 were monitored closely after being warned against any activities to remember the day when troops ploughed through unarmed citizens to end six weeks of unprecedented democracy protests. “The police are at the foot of my building,” said Ding Zilin, head of the Mothers of Tiananmen group which has been fighting since 1989 for those responsible for the crackdown to be held to account. “They told me clearly that they would not allow me to go to the cemetery today,” Ding, whose son was among those killed, told AFP. “For 16 years, I have never been able to go to the Muxidi intersection, where my son died,” she said.

Ding was one of 125 people who sent an open letter to President Hu Jintao last week calling on the government to apologise. “You and your predecessors have wiped the memory of the June 4 massacre from the books and have covered up this despicable event from history,” the letter said. “In this you have been very successful. You have been more thorough than those Japanese right-wing plotters who have tried to erase the history of the Nanjing massacre.”

Contrary to last year, some parents who lost children in the massacre were able to visit a cemetery in the west of the capital where eight of the Tiananmen are buried, but they were also watched by security. “State security came on June 1 to warn me against any activities or gathering,” said Zhang Xianling, who lost her son in the killing. “Today three police offers followed me and when we arrived at the cemetery, there were about 20 of them, hiding behind trees with their mobile phones,” she said.

Extra police were also on hand at the city’s vast Tiananmen Square for a daily flag-raising ceremony watched by scores of Chinese tourists. By midday the numbers of uniformed and plainclothes police appeared to have thinned. Some of the visitors did not want to remember the bloodbath. Police were also stationed today outside the home of the late premier Zhao Ziyang, who was purged after opposing the decision to use force in Tiananmen Square. He died in January after years of house arrest. The only commemoration on Chinese soil of the massacre is held annually in the former British colony Hong Kong, which was returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Tens of thousands of people were expected at a candlelight vigil in the city late Saturday.