May 20, 2014
EDITORIAL: What on earth is the Xi administration afraid of?
June 4 will mark the 25th anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, mainly students, at Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Lawyers and scholars who gathered for a small meeting to commemorate the event have recently been detained one after another.
In an unacceptable move, the administration headed by President Xi Jinping is stepping up its efforts to suppress freedom of speech and public gatherings. We strongly urge the Chinese government to release all the detainees immediately.
Even today, people in China are not allowed to speak about the 1989 incident in public. The Chinese government, which does everything to maintain the Communist Party’s monopoly on power, still rejects the people’s thirst for democracy, just as it did a quarter of a century ago.
The military opened fire on the Tiananmen protesters as it tried to quash the demonstration, killing many of them. Beijing is trying to place a gag on free speech to cover up this inconvenient historical fact.
Chinese intellectuals and the families of the victims have been calling on the government to reveal the truth about the incident and reassess it.
A dozen or so people gathered for a private meeting held in Beijing on May 3.
Among them, five central figures, including Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent civil rights lawyer, and Xu Youyu, a liberal intellectual, have apparently been detained. Contact with them has been lost since May 4.
The fact that Pu and the others were rounded up immediately after the gathering indicates that security authorities had been constantly watching their movements.
They have been apparently charged with “creating a disturbance.” But it is hard to understand how such a small private gathering can be regarded as a “disturbance.”
For many years, Pu has been working hard to improve the human rights situation in China. Pu’s biggest achievement so far is his successful campaign for the abolition of the so-called re-education through labor system, which was announced by the Xi administration late last year.
The controversial system, commonly known as "laojiao," was used to detain people for political education through labor for long periods without an open trial.
The program, which dates back to the era of Mao Tse-tung, had also been used to suppress free speech. Pu has long been calling for its abolition. This background has made his detention all the more shocking.
In addition, prominent journalist Gao Yu, a former reporter for Xinhua news agency who was once involved in the Tiananmen movement, has gone missing. Some other domestic and foreign journalists have also been detained.
Human rights groups and research institutes around the world have issued statements voicing concern about these moves.
A spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry has rejected the international criticism, saying that since China is a nation under the rule of law, any violation of Chinese law is punished according to the law.
But does a country that detains people who only gathered for discussions deserve to be called a nation ruled by law?
Beijing’s abuse of the legal system to silence dissent has only been getting worse. In April, a Chinese appellate court upheld the four-year prison sentence for prominent legal scholar and rights advocate Xu Zhiyong. He was convicted of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order.” Xu has been leading a grass-roots New Citizens’ Movement, which calls for the protection of people’s rights based on the Constitution.
What on earth is the Xi administration afraid of? Its adamant determination not to allow any political organizations or dissenting voices that challenge the Communist Party’s grip on power can only be considered a sign of its lack of self-confidence.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 20