China Releases Three Activists After Tiananmen Anniversary

Pu Zhiqiang (front right) attends a seminar about the Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing, May 3, 2014.

China on Thursday released on bail three of five activists detained last month for attending a meeting to commemorate the military suppression of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, although two remained behind bars.

Outspoken Beijing-based writer Liu Di, democracy activist Hu Shigen, and social scientist Xu Youyu were freed just one day after a crowd of at least 100,000 gathered in Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of the bloodshed, which ended when the People's Liberation Army (PLA) cleared the square of protesters using tanks and automatic weapons.

Prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and Beijing Film Academy professor Hao Jian, who hosted the May 3 forum at his home, were still in police custody.

All five activists were detained on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a catch-all charge often used to target critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Liu Di's father Liu Qinghua said his daughter was being "held in a separate location" by police and would be allowed home in one week.

"I asked them if this counted as residential surveillance under law, and they said it didn't," he said. "I think she is being 'vacationed.'"

Sensitive anniversary

Dozens of activists and dissidents have been taken on enforced "vacations" away from their hometowns around the June 4 anniversary, a sensitive time for the authorities, who continue to ignore growing calls for a re-appraisal of the crackdown.

Liu Qinghua said he was unhappy at the decision. "Of course I wanted her to be released without charge," he said. "But it couldn't be helped; things might have gotten worse if she'd stuck to her guns."

"According to the rules, she needs to be available for any messages [from the authorities], and she has to apply in advance if she wants to leave town," Liu told RFA as his daughter's bail was being processed in a police station near their home.

"It's hard to say [what happens next]; we'll have to see," he said.

He said Liu Di's cell phone and computer had been confiscated but not returned. "We are contacting them about this," he said.

Meanwhile, Xu's lawyer Shang Baojun said he had also been released on bail.

"His wife confirmed to me that he is being released on bail," Shang said.

Hu's lawyer Liang Xiaojun also confirmed his client's release on bail early on Thursday.

"That's right," he said, but declined to comment further.

Yu Ruochen, lawyer for Hao Jian, said she had been unable to contact the authorities regarding her client, however.

"I heard that some of the others were released on but there has been no information on Hao Jian so far," Yu said.

"I will find out tomorrow from the agencies handling his case what the situation is," she said.

Under Chinese law, Pu and Hao may be held for up to 37 days and then either formally arrested, paving the way for a trial, or released. If convicted, they could face a jail term of up to five years each.

Dozens detained

Chinese authorities have detained and questioned dozens of activists and family members of victims of the 1989 military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square student-led pro-democracy movement in the run-up to Wednesday's anniversary, rights groups say.

The overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), which collates reports from a number of rights groups based inside China, said it has documented 43 criminal detentions and two arrests, beginning in April.

It said this year saw "the most suppressive crackdown seen in China on any June 4 anniversary."

A total of 91 people have been detained, disappeared or questioned by police, the group said in an e-mailed statement on Thursday.

Some are being held under criminal detention on public order charges, while many more are being held under temporary house arrest until after the anniversary, or being taken elsewhere in China by state security police on enforced "vacations," it said.

Last week, more than 40 top Chinese rights lawyers signed a mutual assistance pledge to come to the aid of other lawyers targeted by the government, amid a widening clampdown on its critics and those who defend them.

The 25th anniversary is seen as particularly significant for those who see the decision by late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping to send in the troops as a turning point in Chinese history, when a more conciliatory approach espoused by reform-minded then-premier Zhao Ziyang might have led the country down a more democratic path.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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