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Dissidents Challenge Bejing On Anniversary of Crackdown

By Lena H. Sun
The Washington Post
BEIJING

Five years after the Chinese army crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations, seven dissidents publicly petitioned the government Thursday for a reassessment of the 1989 movement and compensation for the families whose relatives were killed or injured.

The activists, led by former student leader Wang Dan, also called for the release of all prisoners associated with the June 4, 1989 crackdown and for the government to allow those who have been released from jail to lead normal lives.

The appeal was made in a petition to the national legislature and made available to reporters. It is a direct challenge to the government's characterization of the massive, student-led protests that swept Beijing and then spread nationwide as a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."

The dissidents asserted that the 1989 demonstrations were part of "a nationwide patriotic popular movement." The movement adhered to the principles of "peace, reason and nonviolence," according to the petition.

"We believe the government's characterization of it as a "riot and a counterrevolutionary rebellion' is unjust and immediately should be reassessed," the activists wrote.

The petition comes a week before the fifth anniversary of the crackdown, the most sensitive period on China's political calendar.

Security recently has tightened visibly in the Chinese capital. The homes of dissidents and their relatives are under surveillance. Wang and several other activists have already left Beijing to avoid the surveillance. Some foreign journalists are being followed. Authorities have canceled three events sponsored by foreign embassies - a charity bazaar, a tennis club dinner and an art exhibit - even though the events were to be attended by foreigners only.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin recently defended the use of force to crush the protests as the only way to ensure stability and continued economic development. China would not hesitate to use violence again if necessary, he said.

The government has never given a public accounting of the exact number of dead and wounded from 1989. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when Chinese soldiers opened fire on the protestors. Nor has the government ever said how many people were arrested in connection with the June 4 crackdown. Despite the releases of some prominent activists, human-rights groups estimate that thousands more could still be in jail.

In the petition Thursday, the activists - several of whom were on China's most-wanted list of student leaders and who served prison terms for their participation in the 1989 movement - said the time had come for the government to "untie the knot in the people's heart."

"We feel that the June 4th incident represents an undeniable "knot' in the Chinese people's historical development. Resolving the June 4 problems and untying this knot in the people's heart will help heal social contradictions and promote social stability (and) will benefit the construction of a democratic legal system and the advancement of society," they wrote.

"We sincerely wish that the government can courageously take this sensible step for the sake of the people's interest and the nation's future," they wrote.