erin david mckenzie on china new government crackdown_00014209.jpg
China's crushing dissent
03:18 - Source: CNN AP

Story highlights

Moderate dissident voices and intellectuals held by police ahead of Tiananmen anniversary

Beijing accuses activists of "picking quarrels"

Chinese government's stance on human rights remains unchanged since crackdown in 1989

CNN  — 

More than a dozen Chinese activists have been detained by authorities in an apparent crackdown ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Others have been placed under house arrest or questioned by police in what Amnesty International says is an attempt to prevent public commemorations of those who died on June 4, 1989.

Among those detained are five activists – a human rights lawyer, two writers and two academics – who were held by police on May 6 after attending a low-key seminar in Beijing to discuss the anniversary.

They were subsequently held on suspicion of “picking quarrels,” according to Amnesty.

Human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang. Screengrab from CNN interview.

Among them is prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, well known in the Chinese media for representing high-profile dissidents such as artist Ai Weiwei, and those detained in the now-defunct “re-education through labor” system.

Pu Zhiqiang was amongst the participants of a May 3 seminar commemorating the Tiananmen Square incident.

On Thursday, Pu’s lawyer and neice, Qu Zhenhong, was also detained on suspicion of “illegally obtaining personal information,” according to Human Rights in China.

‘Nervous’ authorities

Pu took part in the student-led demonstrations in the summer of 1989 that ended in a tragic military crackdown on protestors in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4 of that year. An official death toll has never been announced but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to thousands.

Other seminar attendees currently being detained include online dissident Liu Di, also known as “stainless steel mouse,” film critic Hao Jian, dissident writer Hu Shigen, and noted Chinese scholar Xu Youyu, according to rights lawyer Shang Baojun.

William Nee, a China researcher for Amnesty International, said the arrests were “distressing.”

“It is distressing when some middle-aged people had a small gathering in a private setting, trying to remember the people who died in Tiananmen Square… that even this kind of low key-event with moderate people is not allowed in China right now,” he said.

“If having a small gathering in a private setting is ‘picking a quarrel,’ then what isn’t?

“I think (the authorities) are very nervous about the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square and what it represents.”

More arrests

Signs of an apparent crackdown appeared when press freedom advocate Gao Yu and her son Zhao Meng were both taken away by authorities on April 24. She was reported missing by rights groups after she failed to show up for the Tiananmen commemoration seminar in Beijing.

On May 8, Gao was formally detained on suspicion of leaking state secrets to a foreign entity. The whereabouts of her son are still unknown.

READ: Journalist Gao Yu detained ahead of Tiananmen anniversary

Another activist, Xie Wenfei, was arrested in Guangdong Province on the same day as the Beijing group, also on suspicion of “picking quarrels,” according to Amnesty International.

“These charges and detentions lay bare just how little the Chinese government’s attitudes towards human rights have changed since 1989,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.