25 Years after June Fourth
On June 4, 1989, the Chinese authorities responded to massive citizen calls for democracy and a more open and accountable government with a violent military crackdown. Over the past 25 years, while economic reform has dramatically changed the face of China, the no-political reform trade-off has exacerbated social inequalities, instability, and environmental degradation. Since 2010, the development of rule of law has been seriously undermined by official crackdowns on a growing New Citizens Movement, attacks and restrictions on rights defense lawyers, and regulatory tightening over the media and information flow. Tightening control is also being felt in Hong Kong, which was once guaranteed by Beijing that its freedoms and way of life would be protected under the “One Country, Two Systems” legal framework for 50 years after the handover of sovereignty in 1997. A strong supporter of the calls for democracy on the Mainland in 1989, and, post-1997, the only place in China where people are allowed to openly call for official accountability of June Fourth, Hong Kong is now seeing serious erosions of press freedoms and a roll-back from universal suffrage that Beijing had promised for the 2017 Chief Executive election.
This issue of China Rights Forum looks at the problems and challenges presented by this charged landscape in Mainland China and Hong Kong a quarter of a century after 1989.
“Until the Last Breath”
This section presents essays, interviews, and videos by the Tiananmen Mothers, a key group that has kept alive the demand for justice, accountability, and compensation for June Fourth victims, survivors, and their families. Through documenting the human costs of the government crackdown and their persistent, courageous voices in the face of threats and harassment, the Tiananmen Mothers continue to resist an officially-imposed amnesia and address the ongoing impunity of those responsible—until the last breath.
The first two essays are remembrances shared publicly for the first time: “Born Into Challenges, Dead In an Instant” by Ding Zilin (丁子霖), a former spokesperson of the group, about her son Jiang Jielian (蒋捷连), who, at 17, became one of the first victims of the June Fourth crackdown, and “Remembering Our Friend Du Dongxu on Tomb Sweeping Day” by Ding and her husband, Jiang Peikun (蒋培坤), about a fellow family member of a June Fourth victim who passed away at the age of 86 in 2013.
Also collected in this section are 17 essays by members of the group about June Fourth victims and five video interviews conducted by group members with victims’ families whom they visited on an extensive series of arduous trips in fall 2013. Most of these items were first issued by HRIC earlier this year in the lead up to the 25th anniversary of June Fourth.
Forces at Play for Rule of Law
This section looks at three aspects of rule of law struggles: a major shift in the official model of social control, new strategies being developed by weiquan and public interest lawyers, and an inspirational voice driving a key citizens’ movement.
In “From Stability Maintenance and Control to Wiping Out,” Teng Biao (滕彪), legal scholar and human rights activist, identifies and analyzes what he sees as a new approach to handling and controlling civil society under the Xi Jinping regime. Teng argues that, beginning in 2013, with the detention of the “four gentlemen of Xidan” who publicly called for assets disclosure, the authorities switched to the Wiping-Out model of control that targets the entire civil society. The aims are: “eliminate all nodes of connectivity in civil society, nip all emerging civil society leaders in the bud, and completely destroy the capability of civil resistance.” Yet, he concludes, the perceived crisis that has prompted the Chinese government to adopt this new approach—namely, vocal citizen activists taking to the street to assert basic rights and call for government transparency—is also the very reason that the approach will not succeed, especially in light of Chinese civil society’s capacity for self-regeneration.
In “Can Lawyers Build a Legal Complex for the Rule of Law in China?” Fu Hualing (傅华伶), legal scholar, describes the new characteristics and tactics of the weiquan, or rights defense, lawyers that emerged after the 2010-2011 crackdown, including shifts in rhetoric, the convergence of ordinary rights protection and weiquan lawyering, and the collective rise of professional public interest oriented lawyers. These developments serve as context for his discussion of three ways that public interest lawyers are building their social capital: bonding (organizing alternative groups and networks outside government controlled bar associations), bridging (public interest lawyers reaching out and building alliances with civil society groups), and linking (creating cooperative relationships and building trust with official institutions to influence government decision-making).
In “‘If I Lose My Freedom’—Xu Zhiyong in My Memory,” Xiao Guozhen (肖国珍) provides a moving portrait of a key initiator of the New Citizens Movement, an important rights movement in China that stresses both the rights and responsibilities of citizens. In January 2014, Xu was sentenced to four years in prison for “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.”
Hong Kong: Broken Promises?
In June 2014, the Chinese government issued a White Paper that stressed Beijing’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong. The White Paper, along with past articulation by Chinese officials that candidates for the Chief Executive position must be politically loyal to Beijing and on-going deterioration and rollback of freedoms, have made many Hong Kongers’ increasingly concerned about their future. Beijing’s heavy handed efforts at control have also generated growing popular protests and demonstrations, including the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement, the June 27, 2014 silent march by more than 1,000 lawyers against the White Paper, a July 1 annual protest march that brought out an estimated half a million people, as well as a huge voter turn-out for an unofficial referendum on election proposals—nearly 800,000 out of a population of 7.3 million people. Eighty-eight percent of the voters agreed that Hong Kong’s local legislature (the Legislative Council) should veto any government elections proposals that do not meet international standards.
At stake is the 2017 election of the fifth Chief Executive. The four Chief Executives since 1997, when Britain returned sovereignty over Hong Kong to China, were nominated by a 1,200-member pro-Beijing Election Committee. However, in a 2007 decision, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) declared that Hong Kong could elect its Chief Executive by universal suffrage in 2017.
In “An Introduction to the Chief Executive Electoral Reform Debate,” Alvin Y. H. Cheung (张语轩), a non-practicing member of the Hong Kong Bar, outlines the existing legal framework and examines current debates regarding proposed reforms for the 2017 election, focusing on this key issue: what does “universal suffrage” mean?
In “Holding onto Freedom on Hong Kong’s Long Road to Democracy,” Mak Yin-ting (麦燕庭), veteran journalist and former Chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalist Association, shares her observations of two main threats to freedom of the press—Beijing’s interference and self-censorship among journalists. Mak points out the important role of civil society to make demands upon the government to provide structural protection of rights and freedoms, and, failing there, turn to the international community for assistance. To support reporters of conscience and professionalism, she also suggests the establishment of independent media online as a counterbalancing force to government secrecy and non-transparency.
In this section, we also present photos and videos shot by HRIC of several protests in Hong Kong in June-July 2014: the July 1 march, the June 27 lawyers’ march, and the June 20 “Sing for Democracy” rally.
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