“In 1989, the Chinese government used guns and tanks to suppress the people’s demands for freedom and transparency. In 2014, they use arrests, discrimination, torture, and censorship to discourage those who seek basic freedoms and human rights,” Smith noted.
The human rights situation in China seems to be worse since the 1989 protests, agreed Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in his opening remarks at Tuesday’s hearing.
“Eight hundred million people in China still don’t enjoy the basic right to vote. Chinese citizens, including those who in recent weeks have bravely tried to commemorate those events of a quarter century ago, are imprisoned simply for peacefully exercising their right to free speech, to assembly, to religion,” Brown said.
In the lead-up to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989, the Chinese government continues to crack down on any signs of dissent.
On May 16, human rights lawyer Tang Jingling was arrested for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” according to his wife, Wang Yanfang. A number of personal items were also reportedly taken from his home by Chinese authorities.
Writers Liu Di and Hu Shigen, human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, retired scholar Xu Youyou, and professor Hao Jian were all criminally detained after they participated in a privately held seminar on May 3rd commemorating the events of 1989.
And Xu Guang, a student leader during the Tiananmen protests and a pro-democracy activist, was arrested April 2nd on charges of “subversion.”
“Tiananmen did not end in 1989,” Dr. Rowena He, writer and Harvard lecturer, reminded those attending the “Tiananmen at 25” hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building. “It is not just about then, it is about now.”
The current crackdown is part of ongoing governmental action against lawyers, activists, and scholars as the anniversary of the protest draws near, according to the congressional commission.
The Tiananmen Square protests began peacefully in Beijing on April 18, 1989 after the death of former Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang, who had become a pro-democracy symbol.
However, on the night of June 3-4, an undetermined number of unarmed students and civilian protesters were fired upon by the Chinese Army. Although an official death toll has never been released, estimates of the fatalities range from several hundred to several thousand.
Eyewitness Liane Lee shared her experience of the massacre during Tuesday’s hearing. “There’s a big contrast there,” she said. “The people - they are so peaceful, they are so noble, and they do believe in the power of peace. And the government . . . used heavy weapons to kill the people.”
Lee, a student from Hong Kong at the time, said she was rescued from the square by an ambulance driver. “You must leave the square safely, you must go back to Hong Kong. We need you to tell the world what happened here, what our government did to us tonight,” the driver reportedly told Lee.
Other witnesses at the hearing included former U.S. Ambassadors to China . Stapleton Roy and Winston Lord.