Tiananmen Square anniversary highlights church repression in China

 On the eve of the 11th anniversary of Tiananmen Square this Saturday, campaigners are calling for the release of 213 demonstrators still imprisoned. On the night of 3 June 1989, at least 300 people were killed by the military sent to quell 40 days of peace pro-democracy demonstrations. Thousands were arrested and imprisoned. In a new report released on 1 June, Amnesty International said China is still jailing people who are critical of the government in any way. "The circle of victims widens at every annual commemoration as those who courageously seek justice for the victims of the 1989 massacre are detained or imprisoned by the authorities. The authorities' silence continues despite the growing challenges from both within and outside China," the organisation said. Amnesty International is calling on the Chinese authorities to grant an amnesty and release those held in connection with the 1989 protests and subsequent anniversaries, to account for all those killed and injured, to bring the perpetrators to justice and to compensate the families of those involved. Columban Fr Padraig Digan, who has worked in China, said there was grave concern for the plight of the Tiananmen Square protesters and countless other who are currently in prison. Speaking from the Columbans' house in West Hampstead on Thursday he said: "The anniversary always provokes a great feeling of tension. I was in Hong Kong myself last June during a demonstration commemorating those who died. You could see many plain clothed policemen mingling in the crowds waiting to pounce. The authorities are trying to keep very tight control." Fr Padraig said the surveillance of Catholic and Protestant groups in the country had been stepped up dramatically in recent months and there had been a number of arrests and beatings. All the Catholic church personnel in the Gansu province near the Mongolian border - from the bishop to the seminarians - had recently been arrested and detained. Some months ago, a Catholic priest was found dead in the street of Beijing after allegedly being released from questioning by police. Recent moves towards reconciliation with Rome had been fraught with problems, he said. Following the announcement from Rome, the Chinese swiftly organised the ordination of several government-approved bishops. "However, it didn't quite work out as planned," Fr Padraig said. "They only ordained five instead of 12 and there was a mass boycott of the service by seminarians." Recently there was also the ordination of one bishop that was approved by the Pope which Fr Padraig took as a hopeful sign. There are tense times ahead, he said, but pointed out that the inter-denominational group Churches Together in England are endeavouring to keep up a dialogue with China organised by the Foreign Office. "Conditions relaxed dramatically after the death of Mao," he said. "Then they suddenly swung back - probably partly due to fears following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Now it's a strange mix of very tight control and a sense of things slipping away. Any church organisation is viewed as subversive and a threat. But with the introduction of more liberal economic policies there's also a sense that people are less committed to the old political ideologies. And conditions are not as severe as they were during the time of Mao." To see the new Amnesty report: Tiananmen - 11 years on and still no government inquiry: 'forgotten prisoners' visit their website at www.amnesty.org.

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