After the Massacre

As former Chinese Premier Li Peng was being wined and dined in New York City at the United Nations Millennium Conference in August, a lawsuit was being filed against him downtown. “Crimes against humanity” was the charge levied against Li for his role in the massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. The complaint&3151;filed by five exiled survivors of the massacre who are seeking financial compensation under U.S. federal law—was based largely on evidence collected by Tiananmen Mothers, a human rights network founded by relatives of the victims. It was a moment of glory for the group’s founders, Ding Zilin and Zhang Xianling, thousands of miles away in China. They met 11 years ago, soon after learning that their teenage sons had been shot to death by government troops in the early hours of June 4. The two shared their stories, their outrage, and their grief and began looking for others in similar situations. They found more than a hundred mothers and relatives, as well as survivors of the massacre. Together, they established a network and embarked on a quest for “truth, justice, and accountability.”

They began with a word-of-mouth campaign to contact relatives of those killed and survivors. And they offered emotional support while meticulously recording accounts of death and injury. “No matter the weather, we spent entire days traveling the broad streets and narrow alleys of Beijing,” Ding recalls. The group worked in secret for almost two years until Ding decided to go public. “I condemned the government authorities for launching the massacre and denounced the lies that Li Peng had fabricated about June 4.” Immediately, the persecution began. Ding, then in her mid-fifties, was threatened with death by the guards assigned to follow her, detained, and interrogated. But the more severely she was mistreated, the more determined she and her fellow “Mothers” became. They now provide aid to survivors of the violence and continue to gather and distribute evidence implicating the government. They are also demanding an investigation into the killings. Their objective is not only to see their leaders held legally responsible, but also to generate respect for human rights in China.

Meanwhile, the government’s scare tactics continue. “Their goal is to engineer our network’s disintegration in order to appease the leadership’s innermost anxieties,” Ding wrote recently. But the “Mothers” refuse to be intimidated. When one of the group’s most active members, Su Bingxian, was detained, a police officer told her that history would judge the events of June 4. “Why wait for history?” she asked him. “We want justice for the dead now.”

Action alert: Sign the “Mothers” petition at www.fillthesquare.org.

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