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Past human rights abuses are not erased by the passage of time. Nineteen years later, family members still remember
and mourn their missing and dead loved ones.

On this page:

Nineteen years ago the Chinese government ordered the suppression of a peaceful protest movement that had been carried out by students and civilians in China's major cities over a period of two months in the spring of 1989. The center of the protest movement was Tiananmen Square in Beijing, where tens of thousands of students, workers, and others camped out to press their demands for democratic reform and a halt to China's escalating corruption problem, and where more than one million people marched carrying banners and shouting slogans.

On the night of June 3, 1989, the government ordered the People's Liberation Army to clear the square. On the afternoon of June 3, troops moved into Beijing and clashed with civilians trying to block their way to Tiananmen Square. In the early hours of June 4, the troops cleared the square and opened fire on unarmed students and civilians in the surrounding area.
On the night of June 3, 1989, the government ordered the People's Liberation Army to clear the square.

No official list of the wounded or killed was ever released, and there are conflicting estimates. According to an internal Chinese document, more than 2,000 people died in various Chinese cities from June 3–4 and in the days immediately following. Other estimates range from 188 to 800. One reason for the uncertainty is suspicion that Chinese troops may have quickly removed and disposed of bodies. Following the crackdown, additional deaths occurred when an unknown number of workers and students were executed for their participation in the protests.

After the crackdown, more than 500 people were imprisoned in Beijing's No. 2 Prison, and an unknown number were detained in other Chinese cities. Hundreds were tried and sentenced to lengthy or life sentences. Most life sentences were later commuted to 18 years in prison, and many individuals were released in the summer of 2007. However, it is believed that 20 to 200 people are still imprisoned for June Fourth-related offenses.

For additional information on the events of June Fourth, see HRIC's June Fourth FAQ.
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Calls for Truth and Accountability in 2008 and Beyond
In this section:

In the final 100-day countdown to the 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese government still has a valuable opportunity to demonstrate its commitment and respect for its international obligations, including international human rights and Olympics host promises of greater openness, social development, and environmental progress. The international community-media, foreign governments, professional organizations, and global citizens of conscience-all have a role to play. Join HRIC and support the Chinese rights defenders in this critical year and beyond to 2009.

On the 19th anniversary of the June Fourth Crackdown, HRIC is calling for truth and accountability in 2008 and beyond:

1. Release detainees:

Release of all individuals in detention who have been determined to be arbitrarily detained by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, including those in detention in relation to June Fourth. Further, the Chinese authorities should release other individuals pursuant to the special pardon allowed under Article 64 of the PRC Constitution (2004); medical parole; or other remedial relief requested by the families or their lawyers. Profiles of individuals still in prison in relation to June Fourth are below.

2. Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

Over the past 20 years, China has become an increasingly active and influential actor in the international human rights community. It is a member of the new UN Human Rights Council; it has signed and ratified core international human rights treaties (see chart below); and it signed in 1998, but has not yet ratified, the ICCPR. This growing engagement reflects greater sophistication regarding human rights concepts, language, processes, and mechanisms, and demonstrates a recognition of the significance and relevance of international human rights discourse and practice.

At the same time, China has made limited progress in implementing recommendations issued by international human rights bodies and UN special procedures. These include the following:
  1. China should respect and protect its citizens' right to form independent trade unions;
  2. China should clarify the legal definition of discrimination; and
  3. China should respect freedom of expression, including religious, cultural, and linguistic expressions of ethnic groups.
(Review of the First Periodic Report of the PRC on Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 2005.)

China's recent signing of the new Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities demonstrates its ongoing integration into the international human rights framework. In the spirit of China's Olympics promises on freedom of expression and press freedom, China must now ratify the ICCPR, signed ten years ago.

International Human Rights Treaties Ratified or Signed by China

Treaty Signed Ratified
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CAT) December 12, 1986 October 4, 1988
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) July 17, 1980 November 4, 1980
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) August 29, 1990 March 2, 1992
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) -- December 29, 1981 (accession)
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) October 27, 1997 March 27, 2001
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) October 5, 1998[2] Pending ratification
Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD) March 30, 2007 Pending ratification

3. Conduct an independent inquiry into the events of spring 1989:

To this day, China has yet to permit an independent and impartial investigation into the events of spring 1989.

To this day, China has yet to permit an independent and impartial investigation into the events of spring 1989. Various groups have urged the Chinese government to allow such an inquiry, to no avail. In June 2004, the 15th anniversary of Tiananmen, the United States Congress passed a bill condemning the government crackdown and appealing to China for the establishment of a "June Fourth Investigation Committee." Domestic groups and international human rights organizations, such as the Tiananmen Mothers and Amnesty International, have also asked China to initiate an independent Tiananmen investigation. The Tiananmen Mothers have exhorted the government to find and punish those who were responsible for the crackdown. HRIC joins the appeal of the Tiananmen Mothers and other human rights groups for China to allow a fair, independent inquiry into the events surrounding the Tiananmen crackdown. Names and numbers of those who perished should be disclosed, and the full process and results of this inquiry should be made available to the public to ensure government accountability.

4. Address the appeals of the Tiananmen Mothers:

The Tiananmen Mothers group has repeatedly called on the government to review its official assessment of the Tiananmen crackdown and change its stance toward June Fourth victims and their families. The group has asked China to allow an independent inquiry into the events of spring 1989, give a public account and appropriate restitution, and prosecute the persons responsible. Over the years, the Chinese government has failed to respond to the requests of the Tiananmen Mothers and has subjected the group to harassment, surveillance, and detention. Yet the Tiananmen Mothers have refused to give up their fight against the cycle of impunity that has allowed perpetrators of violations of human rights in China to go unpunished again and again.

As further public evidence of the tragic events of 1989, the Tiananmen Mothers have compiled two maps that indicate places and hospitals where individuals died. These maps, along with other resources, contribute to a more complete record of the deaths and are available at a new Tiananmen Mothers website. HRIC urges the Chinese government to publicly address these concerns and begin engaging in dialogue with the Tiananmen Mothers.

5. Allow Tiananmen exiles to return:

Exiled Tiananmen activists have repeatedly called for the Chinese government to allow them to return to China. The Chinese government has canceled or refused to renew passports, and barred Chinese citizens from returning home. There are also blacklists[1] containing the names of these exiled activists, including all of the principal student leaders of the Tiananmen Square Democracy Movement who escaped from China, together with other intellectuals, writers, and former government officials who participated in the movement. These exiled activists currently live in North America, Europe, and other Asian countries. While the authorities have recently allowed a few individuals to return, in the lead-up to the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Democracy Movement and violent crackdown on June Fourth, the Chinese authorities should allow the remaining majority to return, without conditions, to their homeland. This would demonstrate respect for humanitarian concerns, which would also contribute to a truly harmonious society.

Over the next 12 months, HRIC will track progress on these significant human rights benchmarks and monitor the PRC government's willingness to address the human rights situation, so that Chinese society can move forward onto a path of genuine stability and justice.

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Limited Space for Open Dialogue
Information about the event is strictly controlled in China, making it difficult to access reliable or comprehensive information.

Past human rights abuses are not erased by the passage of time. Nineteen years later, family members still remember and mourn their missing and dead loved ones. The Chinese government, however, does not allow for open discussion of the events of June 4, 1989, nor has it responded to repeated calls for official accountability, reassessment, compensation, or most recently, for dialogue.

Information about the event is strictly controlled in China, making it difficult to access reliable or comprehensive information. Free and open discussion of the event is almost impossible, with strict directives on what print and online media can publish. Search engines in China filter content associated with June Fourth, ensuring for example that internet users cannot access the image of the "Tank Man" and that searches for "June 4" (六四) result in error messages.

Attempts to whitewash history and instill historical amnesia, however, are challenged by Chinese citizens themselves. Official calls to implement a "harmonious society" cannot be embraced by forgetting a society's own past. June Fourth remains a societal wound that must be healed before a truly harmonious society and a rule of law can be built. Dr. Jiang Yanyong, a People's Liberation Army surgeon, asks in an open letter: "Who among us does not have parents, children, brothers and sisters? Who would have an innocent family member killed and not voice the same demand?"

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Chinese Voices: Appeals for Justice
In this section:

Despite official surveillance, harassment, and detention, Chinese voices have continued courageously to raise appeals for accountability and justice over the past 19 years. These voices include the Tiananmen Mothers, a group of June Fourth victims and their families; Dr. Jiang Yanyong, a People's Liberation Army (PLA) surgeon who treated the wounded in 1989; and intellectuals, scholars, and hundreds of ordinary Chinese citizens. Below are excerpts selected from some of the countless petitions, open letters, and appeals to the Chinese authorities. They are testaments to the spirit, courage, and conscience of the Chinese people.

The Tiananmen Mothers (天安门母亲)

"Speak the truth, refuse to forget,
seek justice, call upon conscience"

The Tiananmen Mothers is an organization of family members of the victims of the violent 1989 crackdown carried out by the Chinese military on June 3–4 of that year. The Tiananmen Mothers send appeals every year to China's leaders, the National People's Congress, and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference seeking publication of the facts about the crackdown, a public apology, compensation, and a judicial investigation of the events. Over the past 19 years, the Chinese authorities have never responded to their requests, and authorities have repeatedly harassed members of the group.

On May 28, 2008, The Tiananmen Mothers launched a new website. (See also "HRIC Congratulations to the Tiananmen Mothers on the Establishment of their Website," May 27, 2008.) Just hours after its launch, the website was blocked within China. (See also "HRIC Statement: 'Tiananmen Mothers' Website Blocked in China," May 28, 2008.).

Under the banner of the rights defender group Tiananmen Mothers, those wounded during the crackdown and the families of those who were killed or disappeared have come together to contest official claims about what really happened in 1989. The Tiananmen Mothers provide support to each other and work together to gather information. They have made several demands over the past 12 years, including:
  1. A full investigation into the crackdown;
  2. A public accounting and appropriate restitution;
  3. Prosecution of those responsible;
  4. Reassessment of the 1989 Democracy Movement; and, most recently,
  5. Dialogue with the authorities.
For excerpts of appeals made by the Tiananmen Mothers, see Appeals for Justice.

Additional information on the Tiananmen Mothers can be found on HRIC's website.

Dr. Jiang Yanyong: SARS Hero's Call for a Reassessment of June Fourth

In February 2004, Dr. Jiang Yanyong (蒋彦永), a Communist Party member and a military doctor who exposed the SARS epidemic in Beijing in 2003, was placed under party investigation after releasing an private letter (translation in English) to the National People's Congress and other Chinese leaders, asking for an official reevaluation on June Fourth. Dr. Jiang was working at a hospital in Beijing on the night of June 3, 1989, and recalled treating around 90 victims. In the letter, he stated that the authorities had acted "in a frenzied fashion, using tanks, machine guns, and other weapons to suppress the totally unarmed students and citizens, killing ... innocent students.... Now 15 years have gone by and the authorities are expecting the people to forget the incident gradually." Dr. Jiang was later detained on June 1 that year and kept in custody for 4 and a half years, where he was forced to undergo political indoctrination sessions and was investigated for possible criminal activity.

192 Chinese Citizens of Conscience

On November 5, 2002, HRIC received a copy of an open letter to the 16th Party Congress signed by 192 opposition activists from 17 provinces and cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, which called for a reassessment of June Fourth and rehabilitation of Zhao Ziyang.[3] The signatories of the open letter include former political prisoner Pu Yong, who died on November 2. Informed sources say Pu Yong wished to participate in the open letter as his last opportunity to express his political demands. For an excerpt of the letter, see Appeals for Justice.

45 Chinese Scholars and Intellectuals

In May 1995, the United Nations Year for Tolerance, a group of 45 prominent Chinese scholars and intellectuals, issued a joint appeal letter calling for more tolerance in China. For an excerpt of the letter, see Appeals for Justice.

Deputy Editor of the Chengdu Evening News

In June 2007, Li Zhaojun, the deputy editor of the Chengdu Evening News (成都晚报), was fired along with two co-workers, following the placement of an advertisement in the newspaper that praised the mothers of protestors who died during the crackdown. The advertisement simply stated, "A salute to the strong mothers of the victims of June 4!" (向坚强的64遇难者母亲致敬!). The clerk who allowed the tribute to be published had never heard of the crackdown. The man also attempted to place the same advertisement with two other Chengdu newspapers; however, they would not allow the advertisement after consultation with their superiors.

Chinese Dissidents' Sixth Anniversary Appeal

On May 31, 1995, Wang Zhihong, Wang Dan, Bao Zunxin, Liu Nianchun, Liu Xiaobo, Jiang Qisheng, and several other intellectuals issued a letter entitled, "Drawing from a Lesson Paid for in Blood, The Process of Promoting Democracy and Rule of Law-An Appeal on the Sixth Anniversary of June Fourth." For an excerpt of the letter, see Appeals for Justice.

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Still in Prison

One year from the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen, numerous individuals in China remain imprisoned for participating in the nationwide protests that occurred from April to June 1989. While almost all of the well-known prisoners from the Tiananmen protests have been released, "hundreds if not thousands" of lesser-known prisoners continue to languish behind bars, many for offenses such as the destruction of property or participation in "counterrevolutionary activities,"[4] crimes that were abolished in the 1997 revision of the Criminal Law. The Dui Hua Foundation has estimated that, as of March 2008, 60 to 100 known Tiananmen protesters are still in prison,[5] while other estimates of this number by the U.S. Department of State, Amnesty International, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Chinese Human Rights Defenders Network, and Human Rights in China range from 20 to 200. These known individuals still in prison include:
  • Wang Jun: scheduled for release on December 11, 2009
    Wang Jun was an 18-year-old worker from Shaanxi who was sentenced to death after participating in a "serious political disturbance" at the Xincheng Factory in Xi'an in April 1989. Upon appeal, Wang's case was transferred to the Supreme People's Court in Beijing, which recommended the death sentence with a two-year reprieve.[6] His sentence was reduced another four times. Wang is now being held at the Fuping Prison in Shaanxi.

  • Wei Yingchun: scheduled for release on January 24, 2010
    Wei Yingchun, a Shanghai factory worker, was 20 when he was accused of setting fire to a train that had run into protesters blocking the tracks while protesting the crackdown in Beijing. Wei was sentenced to life imprisonment in June 1989 for participating in counterrevolutionary riots and damaging transportation equipment. His sentence has since been reduced, and Wei is currently scheduled to be released from Baoshan Prison in Shanghai in 2010.

  • Liu Zhihua: scheduled for release on January 16, 2011
    Liu Zhihua was one of a group of workers that organized a June 1989 strike that led to the closure of the Xiangtan Electrical Machinery plant in Hubei Province. He was sentenced to life in prison in June 1989 for "hooliganism" and inciting a mob to "beat, smash, and loot." This sentence was later reduced to 18 years' imprisonment. Liu is currently held at the Hunan No. 6 Prison.

  • Gu Xinghua: scheduled for release on February 28, 2011
    Gu Xinghua, an ethnic Miao farmer from Guizhou Province, was 25 when he created the People's Solidarity Party in 1988. He was detained in June 1989 on suspicion of planning military activities after the Tiananmen crackdown, formally arrested in September 1990, and sentenced to life imprisonment for "counterrevolutionary rebellion and gathering people to make weapons." His sentence was subsequently reduced four times. Gu is currently incarcerated in Guiyang Prison.

  • Miao Deshun: scheduled for release on September 15, 2018
    Miao Deshun, a Beijing resident, was detained in June 1989 and convicted of counterrevolutionary arson. He was originally given a death sentence with a two-year reprieve, which was reduced to life in prison in 1991, and then reduced again to 20 years' imprisonment. According to the Dui Hua Foundation, by the time Miao is released in 2018, he will have served 29.5 years in prison for starting a fire. He is being held at the Beijing No. 2 Prison.
See also Hu Shigen.

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HRIC's Advocacy and Media Work on June Fourth
Below is a listing of HRIC advocacy and media work, including press statements, reports, and articles. To subscribe to HRIC's press list, please e-mail communications@hrichina.org with "SUBSCRIBE" as the subject heading.



[1] Congressional-Executive Commission on China, "China: Enforced Exile of Dissidents, Government 'Re-entry Blacklist' Revealed," January 6, 1995, http://www.cecc.gov/pages/roundtables/120902/blacklistFu.html.

[2] China has stated its intent to ratify the ICCPR on numerous occasions. See, e.g., Permanent Mission of the People's Republic of China to the UN, Aide Memoire, April 13, 2006.

[3] A former premier of the People's Republic of China, Zhao Ziyang was purged for his sympathetic stance toward the students involved in June Fourth. He spent the last 15 years of his life under house arrest.

[4] John Kamm, "China's June Fourth Prisoners: The Long Road to Justice, Remarks to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong for the 12th Annual Human Rights Press Awards," The Dui Hua Foundation, March 29, 2008.

[5] Ibid.

[6] For more information on the death penalty in China, see Human Rights in China, "China's Death Penalty Reforms," China Rights Forum 2 (2007), http://hrichina.org/public/PDFs/CRF.2.2007/CRF-2007-2_Penalty.pdf. When death sentences are handed down with a two-year reprieve (sixing huangqi liangnian zhixing), the death penalty is automatically commuted to life imprisonment if the convicted person does not willfully commit an additional crime during the two-year period.

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