Ij reportika Logo

Former 1989 student leader on detention center hunger strike in China’s Zhejiang

A former student leader of the 1989 protest movement at Hangzhou University in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang is being force-fed in detention after refusing food and drink, RFA has learned.

Xu Guang has been formally arrested on suspicion of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” a charge frequently used to target peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), after he protested the confiscation of his mobile phone by police, fellow rights activist Zou Wei said.

“Xu Guang is on hunger strike, and his family was a little concerned [about saying anything in public], because the state security police got in contact after my last interview,” Zou said.

“I got a call from state security police just 10 minutes after I gave that interview,” he said. “They called me twice.”

The news emerged via a defense lawyer who was allowed to visit Xu in detention in mid-June, but who didn’t dare to go public with the information for fear of reprisals from the authorities, Zou said.

“They met once, but the lawyer didn’t dare to say anything, and I didn’t say anything either, because the case is so [politically] sensitive.”

“The relevant departments got to the lawyer and talked them out of [saying anything],” he said.

Xu, 54, was detained after he held up a placard outside Hangzhou’s Yuquan police station demanding his phone back.

He had been approached by officers from the Xihu district police department and warned to keep a low profile during the 33rd anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre on June 4.

His family received official notification of Xu’s formal arrest on Saturday, Zou said.

A friend of Xu’s who gave only the surname Jiang said warnings to stay out of the public eye were common for Xu around the massacre anniversary.

“Xu Guang was illegally hauled in for questioning by local police, who confiscated his communications device[s] and issued a warning,” Jiang said.

“So Xu went down to the police station with a placard that said ‘overturn the official verdict on June 4’,” she said. “The state security police detained him on the same day.”

“According to Xu Guang’s family, he is on hunger strike in the detention center,” she said, adding that everyone is concerned about his health.

Repeated calls to Xu’s sister Xu Yan rang unanswered on Tuesday.

Xu has previously served a five-year jail term after trying to formally register the China Democracy Party (CDP) as a political party in 1998, and has repeatedly called on the CCP to overturn the official verdict of “counterrevolutionary rebellion” on the 1989 protests.

He is currently being held in the Xihu Detention Center.

The New York-based Human Rights in China (HRIC) describes the June 3-4, 1989, massacre as a government-backed military crackdown that ended large-scale, peaceful protests in Beijing and other cities during that year.

“Despite persistent citizen demands for the truth and an accounting of the bloodshed, the authorities have offered nothing beyond their characterization that the protests were ‘counterrevolutionary riots’ — a  label they later changed to ‘political disturbance’ … suppressed by ‘decisive measures’,” the group says in a standing description on its website.

“The Chinese government has never publicly accounted for its actions with an independent and open investigation, brought to justice those responsible for the killing of unarmed civilians, or compensated the survivors or families of those killed,” HRIC said.

“In fact, it has never made public even the names and the number of people killed or wounded during the crackdown, or of those executed or imprisoned afterwards in connection with the protests,” it said.

Public mourning for victims or discussion of the events of spring and summer 1989 are banned, and references to June 4, 1989, blocked, filtered or deleted by the Great Firewall of government internet censorship.

Beauty influencer Austin Li, part of a generation of younger Chinese people who consequently know little of the massacre, had his June 3, 2022, livestream interrupted after he displayed a tank-shaped ice-cream dessert, prompting censors to pull the plug immediately.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.