Tibet Network Statement, 4 June 2019

On the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre we remember how 1989 became a year of widespread escalating repression by the ruling Communist Party of China.  

In early March 1989 massive demonstrations in Tibet’s capital Lhasa began to resemble a popular uprising, as thousands of Tibetans took to the streets. At least 450 Tibetans were reportedly killed by the People’s Armed Police as Chinese forces tried to regain control of the city. On 8 March the then Party Secretary, Hu Jintao, declared Martial Law.

Just one month later thousands of students, democracy activists and workers in Beijing rose up in protest against the ruling Party, calling for freedom of expression, accountability and democracy. By 20 May 1989 Martial Law had been imposed here too.

Days later, on 3 and 4 June, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army entered Tiananmen Square, opening fire on the protesters, killing and injuring tens of thousands in the ensuing massacre.

Today the human rights situation in China has hit an all time low. Human Rights Watch have described China’s current assault on individual human rights to be at its worst level since the Tiananmen Square massacre. According to Freedom House’s 2019 annual report, China only scores 11/100 in its freedom ranking, and Tibet is listed as the second least free place in the world for the fifth year in row.

Ahead of the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, Chinese Human Rights Defenders reported that China has detained or threatened dozens of activists, to prevent them from commemorating the events of 1989. In East Turkestan a million Uyghur people are being held in detention camps and hundreds of Tibetans remain unaccounted for after the plateau-wide Uprisings of 2008. Across the People’s Republic of China, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Southern Mongolians, Hong Kongers and Chinese people are facing unbelievable levels of human rights abuses, whether they be religious practitioners, human rights defenders, feminists, petitioners, lawyers, journalists, professors or students.

Whilst the international community expressed its outrage in 1989, over subsequent decades international action on China’s human rights abuses has declined, with many governments bending in the face of China’s aggressive strategies to silence criticism. Meanwhile, companies like Google risk becoming complicit by developing a bespoke search engine for the Chinese market that expunges the events of Tiananmen Square from history.

30 years on from Tiananmen Square and martial law in Tibet, we pay tribute to the enduring courage of those who resist China’s draconian rule. We urge the international community to show not only that it will never forget the atrocities of the past, but that it will stand up against the flagrant disregard for fundamental human rights. We call on United Nations member states to join together to call for;

  • unfettered and independent access to Tibet and Uyghur areas and China by independent international human rights experts, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant UN Special Rapporteurs;
  • an end to the abuse of national security legislation as a means of criminalising the work of human rights defenders, freedoms of expression, association, religion or belief and subverting due process, and call on China to seek assistance from UN experts to this end/achieve this.
  • the immediate release of any and all individuals subjected to unlawful and unjustified deprivation of liberty, and prevent torture; for example language rights activist Tashi Wangchuk.

China has ridden roughshod over the human and political rights of citizens under its rule for far too long. It’s time for a response from the international community that matches the courage and conviction of those who resist China from within.

A spectacular night scene of the mass hunger strike in Tiananmen Square 1989. The image is credited to an anonymous friend of author Ma Jian (@majian53) who tweeted the image with
the quote; “he wants it to be shared, but is too afraid to reveal his name”