"Those who were sentenced to death or given long prison terms tended to be ordinary people or workers, while the world focused its condemnation on cases of jailed students and intellectuals."
China’s June Fourth prisoners are now middle-aged men who have spent their entire adult lives in prison. The protests for which they have been sentenced would, for the most part, today be called “mass incidents.” Most would likely be fined and given relatively short sentences. Those serving sentences for counterrevolution and hooliganism form a special group: these “crimes” were removed from China’s Criminal Law in 1997. They are serving sentences for crimes that no longer exist.
Those who were sentenced to death, many of whom were executed immediately, or given long prison terms for their roles in 1989 tended to be ordinary people or workers, while the world focused its condemnation on cases of jailed students and intellectuals. Authorities justified the harsh punishments by accusing these Beijing residents of using violence killing soldiers, burning army trucks or overturning armored tanks.
A former Tiananmen prisoner in Beijing, whose name is withheld for personal safety, has, since his release in 2003, gathered information about fellow Tiananmen prisoners whom he met when he was in prison, has visited the families of some of them, and documented additional cases, on which people have come forward to provide detailed information.
"I want to tell those who claim that Tiananmen 'belongs to another era' that, behind the high, barbed-wire-ringed walls of the Chinese prisons, Tiananmen prisoners are still suffering and forced to engage in hard labor day and night today," said the former prisoner of conscience, who participated in the 1989 pro-democracy protests and has since been imprisoned several times.
Some names that had surfaced over the years:
Liu Zhihua is the last imprisoned member of a group of workers who organized one of the largest strikes that took place in June 1989. Twenty-one years old at the time, Liu was convicted of “hooliganism” for giving anti-government speeches and inciting a mob to “beat, smash, and loot”. He was sentenced to life in prison, but this was reduced later. His sentence is due to expire on January 16, 2011.
Miao Deshun was among a group of five Beijing residents who were detained in June 1989 and subsequently convicted of arson. He was sentenced to death with two-year reprieve, a sentence that was reduced to life in prison in 1991. In 1998, his sentence was commuted to 20 years in prison, but because in the Chinese system you don’t get credit for time served when a life sentence is commuted to fixed-term imprisonment, Miao is not scheduled for release from Beijing’s Yanqing Prison until September 15, 2018, at which time he will have spent 291⁄2 years behind bars for setting a fire.
According to state media, Gu Xinghua, a 25-year-old farmer of the Miao ethnic group, established the People’s Solidarity Party in the winter of 1988. He and the party’s 40 members took advantage of the 1989 turmoil “to carry out activities and undermine the socialist system.” Gu was sentenced to life in prison for “counterrevolutionary armed mass rebellion;” after four sentence reductions, he is due for release from Guizhou’s Guiyang Prison on February 28, 2011.
Wang Jun, an 18-year-old temporary worker from Shaanxi Provice, participated in a “serious political disturbance” at the Xi’an Xincheng Factory on April 22, 1989, throwing rocks, breaking street lamps and windows, and setting fire to several vehicles. Wang was sentenced to death. After four sentence reductions, Wang is due for release from Shaanxi’s Fuping Prison on December 11, 2009.
Yu Rong, an unemployed 34-year-old man whose father had died in prison as a counterrevolutionary, distributed 1,450 reactionary leaflets on 52 occasions in five Shanghai districts from June to October 1989. His modus operandi was to drop the leaflets from tall buildings, escaping before passers-by could read them and alert the police. According to the January 1990 edition of People’s Police, this was the largest case of counterrevolutionary incitement in the post-1949 history of Shanghai. Hundreds of officers under the guidance of then Shanghai’s party secretary, Zhu Rongji, spent nearly four months trying to capture the culprit. They succeeded on October 2, 1989. Under interrogation, Yu admitted to dropping bricks as well as leaflets. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and placed in an Ankang Hospital, a psychiatric detention center. We do not know whether he is still there. Despite widespread knowledge of Yu’s activities on the part of Shanghai’s populace, the case was virtually unknown to the city’s sizable population of foreign diplomats, journalists, and businessmen.
Another Shanghai prisoner from the 1989 protests is Wei Yingchun. Wei was 20 years old when he allegedly set fire to a train that had plowed into protesters blocking the tracks in protest of the crackdown on the demonstrations in Beijing. Four people were executed for this crime; others were given long sentences. Wei was sentenced to life in prison for sabotaging transportation equipment. After six sentence reductions, he is scheduled for release from Shanghai’s Baoshan Prison on January 24, 2010.