- Photographer: Jeff Widener
The final prisoner from China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square protests will reportedly be released on Saturday after spending nearly three decades in jail, a human-rights group said.
Miao Deshun, who is now reportedly in poor health, “might find himself leaving a small jail but entering a bigger prison,” Hu Jia, a well-known human-rights advocate who had been jailed for rebuking the Communist Party and who is also severely ill, told The Washington Post.
“He’s likely to find himself surrounded by state security police upon his release, something unimaginable before he went to jail,” Hu said. “Release from jail does not necessarily mean more freedom.”
The communist government of China brutally suppressed the student-led protests that called for democracy and freedom, which they labeled as a ” counterrevolutionary riot.”
It led to a crackdown on June 4, 1989, in which the government deployed troops and tanks and left an unknown number dead – 241 from the government’s official report, though estimates range from the hundreds to the thousands.
The Tiananmen Square protests, along with the crackdown, remain taboo in mainland China. The Communist Party has censored the word “Tiananmen” online and cut it from its history textbooks. Young people educated in the mainland, who don’t have access to much foreign media – most of which are blocked by the “Great Firewall” – will have no way to find out about the crackdown.
- Jeff Widener/AP Photo
Miao was sentenced to death with reprieve for allegedly throwing a basket into a burning tank during the crackdown.
His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment in 1991, reduced to 20 years in 1998, and reduced again by 11 months this year – resulting in his release from the Yanqing Prison on October, 15, Dui Hua, a San Francisco-based human rights group, said in a statement in May.
But the Associated Press reported the date “could not be independently verified” since the Ministry of Public Security and the Beijing Higher People’s Court had not responded to faxed requests for comment.
The 51-year-old former factory worker “refused to do hard labor, refused re-education, refused to write repentance letters,” Wu Wenjian, a fellow former inmate of Miao, told the Associated Press, and said Miao’s stubbornness had brought him heavier punishments and periods of solitary confinement.
“At that time, whoever got a suspended death sentence would at least pretend to accept the sentence and the reform education, but he wouldn’t,” Wu told The Washington Post. “He kept appealing and refused to be reformed.”
- Jeff Widener/AP Photo
Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – the Democratic and Republican candidates in the US presidential election – have in the past weighed in on China’s troubled human-rights history.
In 2009, while she served as secretary of state, Clinton called on China to acknowledge the “darker events of its past” on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square tragedy. She also urged the Chinese government to not only “provide a public accounting of those killed, detained or missing,” but to also “learn and to heal,” according to the BBC. Beijing rejected Clinton’s words at the time, calling them “groundless accusations.”
Donald Trump called the Tiananmen Square protests a “riot” during a GOP primary debate in March, and called China a “strong, powerful government” that put down the turmoil with “strength.”