Tiananmen anniversary: Chinese leaders are sued over the massacre

TEN YEARS after the crushing of the Tiananmen Square student rebellion, an underground network of families who lost relatives in the massacre is launching an unprecedented legal action against China's leaders at the time, including the former Prime Minster, Li Peng, as well as Chen Xitong, Mayor of Peking at the time.

Details of the suit, submitted to the Chinese courts a few days ago, will be unveiled today by the New York-based organisation, Human Rights in China. While the action's chances of success in Peking may be slim, the organisation will pledge simultaneously to champion it in the international courts.

The suit, which has been shown to The Independent, accuses those who ordered the crackdown on 4 June 1989 of "intentional killing", which "should be punished by a 10-year imprisonment, life sentence or death". The suit specifically asks the court in question - the Supreme People's Procuratorate - to consider Li Peng "as a prime suspect for the crime of June Fourth".

The crackdown in the streets around Tiananmen Square resulted, according to the suit, "in hundreds and perhaps thousands of deaths and many more injuries. Much evidence has shown that while implementing martial law in Peking, China's armed forces randomly shot civilians without warning, intentionally killed many students and other Peking residents".

Almost more startling than the suit itself, however, is the supporting evidence that accompanies it. The network of 105 families, founded by Ding Zilin, a former university professor who lost her son, has also compiled a list of 155 victims who perished in the crackdown and 65 who were injured. Alongside each name is a precise description of how they were killed or wounded. While many more are thought to have died, no list of names has ever been issued by the government in Peking. In addition, the network has collected signed testimonies from 27 people who witnessed or were touched by the massacre. Most lost relatives; a few are those who were injured but survived. The statements, to be released today, with some photographs of victims, have been compiled precisely to support the contention that the army and the political leaders acted illegally.

There is testimony, for example, from a young man who was among the scores believed to have been deliberately run down by tanks and armoured vehicles. The man, Fang Zheng, who is now 33, was not even on the street when he was struck, but on the pavement, attempting to flee the melee.

"I realised that a tank was racing toward us, travelling from east to west. With all my force, I tried to push the woman towards the guard rail by the sidewalk. In the blink of an eye, the tank was approaching the sidewalk and closing in on me. It seemed as if the barrel of its gun was inches from my face. I could not dodge it in time. I threw myself to the ground and began to roll. But it was too late. My upper body fell between the treads of the tank, but both my legs were run over. The treads rolled over my legs and my pants, and I was dragged for a distance". Mr Fang later had both his legs amputated.

Other statements speak of victims who had been shot in the back. This, according to the suit, denotes deliberate intent to murder students who were in retreat. Listed in the suit as witness number 16 is Kuang Diqing, who lost his son, Kuang Min, on the night of 3 June 1989, when he was 27. The father was called to the mortuary of the Fengtai Hospital in Peking on 8 June to identify the body.

"Just one glimpse of his face made me cry so hard that I almost lost my senses," he states, adding that some of his son's fellow students then changed the clothes on the body. "They told me afterwards that he was struck by a bullet in the back which pierced his liver and belly. The entry wound was small , but the exit wound was very large, which indicates he was hit by an exploding bullet."

References to exploding bullets and the devastating damage they inflict are common to many of the testimonies. Many tell also of bullying by officials who demanded that relatives kept secret the real nature of their loved one's deaths. This happened to Mr Kuang when he took his son to be cremated. "They told me that I had to follow certain procedure, that I had to write an explanation of the circumstances of my son's death. If I wrote down that he had been shot, they would not complete the cremation procedure".

Acknowledging that the suit is unlikely to make headway in Peking, Human Rights in China notes in a statement that if it receives no response, the families "intend to pursue the matter outside the country with the ultimate aim of setting up an international tribunal of some kind to try these cases". The privately supported Human Rights in China could offer the most help to such an international effort.

Among those expected to speak in New York today are Wang Dan, one of the leaders of the student rebellion who is now at Harvard University in the United States, as well as one of his former associates, Li Lu. Mr Li now operates a small Wall Street hedge fund. Arguably the most famous - and also the most controversial - figure of the rebellion, Chai Ling, is also in the US, running her own Internet company in Boston. She is not involved in today's initiative.

Absent also will be Ding Zilin, who has spent 10 years tracking down the names of those who died or were injured and compiling the testimonies that now support the lawsuit. Her own son, Jiang Jielian, was hit by a bullet fired from behind him on 3 June 1989.

But in an essay, Ms Ding explains her motivation in what has been a risky undertaking and one that has earned her brief spells in prison and, she says, round-the-clock government surveillance.

She says: "As Chinese people, we may have many goals and dreams, but I think we must put a priority on establishing a moral system in which the reckless disregard for human life is put behind us. If someone were to ask me, `Why did you choose to document death?' I think this would be my answer."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Duty Manager is required to join one of the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

Recruitment Genius: Chef

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Chef is required to join one of the largest ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is required to jo...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor