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End June 1989 massacre denial, free dissidents, says Human Rights Watch

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, June 1, 2010 – The Chinese government should admit to the massacre of unarmed civilians in June 1989, release the estimated 20 Tiananmen-era prisoners improperly arrested and convicted at that time, and free other government critics jailed for exercising their right to freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said today.

More than two decades after Chinese army troops initiated a massacre of an estimated 2,000 unarmed people around Beijing's Tiananmen Square and other Chinese cities on and after June 3-4, 1989, some Chinese citizens continue to be persecuted for advocating support for universal human rights and freedoms.

"Not only has the Chinese government wholly failed to account for the June 1989 killings," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, "but civil society advocates and peaceful critics continue to face routine repression for advocating rights guaranteed by China's own constitution."

On June 3-4, 1989, the Chinese government turned its troops and tanks against its own citizens to suppress a movement of students, workers, academics, writers, and journalists, demonstrating peacefully for a pluralistic political system. The death toll included hundreds of ordinary Chinese who massed in the streets of Beijing to stop the army from reaching Tiananmen Square. Although the Chinese government has over the past two decades released the majority of the thousands of people imprisoned for participation in the June 1989 protests, it has consistently refused to provide a list of those killed, "disappeared", or imprisoned in June 1989.

The government has failed to publish verifiable casualty figures, quashed all public discussion of June 1989, and continues to victimize survivors, victims' families, and others who challenge the official version of events. The Chinese government has also consistently rejected calls by Human Rights Watch and concerned foreign governments for a transparent and impartial investigation into the 1989 massacre; accountability for those who ordered soldiers to open fire on demonstrators; compensation to victims and family members; release of those still in prison; and accounting for those who are victims of enforced disappearance.

Today secrecy and obfuscation still characterize the government's response to episodes of mass protests. In the aftermath of unrest in Tibet in March 2008 and in Xinjiang in July 2009, the Chinese government went far beyond its legitimate right to persecute protesters who had committed violent acts and arbitrarily detained and unfairly prosecuted ethnic Tibetans and Uighurs. In Xinjiang, Human Rights Watch also documented enforced disappearances in which Chinese security forces detained people then denied holding them and failed to disclose their whereabouts. The government also condones "black jails" – a system of secret, unlawful detention facilities where abuses are rife and which ensnare thousands of citizens annually in Beijing alone.

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