IFJ condemns China media crackdown on Tiananmen anniversary

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today honoured the many journalists who have tried their utmost to report on the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, despite suffering harassment, threats and interference by the authorities, and has called on China to respect individuals’ rights of press freedom and freedom of expression at this pivotal time of remembrance. On June 4, foreign correspondents, together with representatives from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau media outlets, gathered in Hong Kong to report on the Candlelight Vigil held to commemorate the 1989 events. A leading Mainland legal activist, Teng Biao, who is currently a visiting scholar at Hong Kong Chinese University, spoke to the gathering in defiance of warnings by the Chinese authorities and the China University of Political Science and Law, where is a lecturer. The Chinese authorities imposed a stifling security blanket across the nation in the lead-up to the anniversary. Many foreign correspondents in Beijing were prevented from interviewing relevant people, including members of the “Tiananmen Mothers”, intellectuals, human rights lawyers, activists and ordinary citizens. The IFJ was informed that several journalists were warned not to report on the topic for weeks before June 4. An independent cameraman was detained in March as he prepared to interview Ding Zilin, a member of the Tiananmen Mothers, which represents the relatives of those who died in the massacre. According to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC), a number of journalists complained they were blocked, harassed and threatened by police in Beijing without explanation. A reporting crew was blocked by police in the Sanlitun district in Beijing when they asked people on the street whether they recognised a photo of “Tank-Man”, an unknown Chinese citizen who stood in front of a tank during the military crackdown. Police interrogated the crew for six hours, accusing the journalists of breaching the law. When the journalists asked police to specify the law they had allegedly broken, the police replied: “It’s not a matter of law. It’s a matter of culture. The culture is above the law.” The journalists were subsequently accused of “disturbance of public order” and were threatened with having their accreditations and  working visas cancelled the next day when they went to the police station to retrieve their press cards. During the interrogation, the journalists were videotaped and forced to “admit” their violations and promise they wouldn’t cause any further “disturbance”. Their belongings and cameras were also searched. In Beijing, police prevented Hong Kong media personnel from entering Tiananmen Square on the night of June 3, saying they did not have “permission”. The June 4 anniversary of the massacre has been a taboo topic for the Chinese authorities for a quarter of a century, and no discussion of June 4 is allowed on the internet. However, in 2014, the situation has deteriorated dramatically. Seven Chinese media workers, as well as unknown numbers of human rights lawyers, intellectuals and activists, have been detained, charged and sentenced by the Chinese authorities in the past two months. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, issued a rare statement on the eve of June 4 to demand that the authorities release the detainees immediately. Highlighting the importance of “truth-seeking”, she said: “Much remains unknown about what exactly transpired between 3 June and 4 June 1989. In the absence of an independent, factual investigation, there are dramatically differing accounts. The death toll, for example, ranges from hundreds to thousands, and many families of victims are still awaiting an explanation of what happened to their loved ones. “It is in the interests of everyone to finally establish the facts surrounding the Tiananmen Square incidents. China has made many advances over the past 25 years, particularly in the area of economic and social rights, as well as legal reforms. Learning from events of the past will not diminish the gains of the past 25 years, but will show how far China has come in ensuring that human rights are respected and protected.” US President Obama made a rare remark about Tiananmen Square 1989 during his trip to Poland. “The blessings of liberty must be earned and renewed by every generation, including our own,” he said. The government-controlled Global Times English edition, a sister publication of the People’s Daily, reported that a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry of China denounced all the remarks about Tiananmen Square and accused the US of having “infringed on internal affairs.” The IFJ Asia-Pacific office said: “We are not surprised that the Chinese authorities would try their utmost to deter people from talking about the Tiananmen Square massacre. However, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, China should now accept its responsibility to defend individuals’ rights of press freedom and freedom of expression and allow its own people to report and remember an incident that, for most of the world and many Chinese people, remains cloaked in secrecy. “It is unconvincing that China claimed in its own Human Rights White Paper that human rights have improved, while suppression of human rights occurs every day. In the case of Tiananman, the demand for truth-seeking remains as high today as it did in 1989.” The IFJ urges the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, to investigate the suppression of freedom of expression and the right of the media to report that has occurred around the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, and to bring China authorities’ actions to account, not only on the events this week but also to those that transpired in 1989 in what is now seen by many as a landmark battle for democracy. 

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