Tiananmen pro-democracy veteran arrested

Zhou Yongjun detained ahead of 20th anniversary

A former student leader of China's 1989 pro-democracy movement has been arrested on fraud charges, his family said yesterday, weeks before the 20th anniversary of the 4 June crackdown on Tiananmen Square protests.

The formal arrest of Zhou Yongjun, a leader of the Beijing Students' Autonomous Union in the 1989 protests, comes after months in secret detention following his return from exile in the United States, his family said.

Mr Zhou is a permanent US resident and his case could stoke contention between Washington and Beijing.

He was charged with fraud by police in his home city of Suining in south-west Sichuan province, said his brother, Zhou Lin. He said his family received the written arrest notice yesterday morning.

The detained man's partner, Zhang Yuewei, called the charge unfounded. "He's been under secret detention for a long time, since he tried to enter China last year," she said, speaking from California, where the couple live. "At first he was accused of spying and political crimes, but now they have switched to this financial fraud accusation."

An officer in the Suining Public Security Bureau said there was a "case involving Zhou", but refused to say any more. The US embassy in Beijing had no immediate comment.

Mr Zhou, 41, was a law student who helped organise the mass movement demanding democratic reform that erupted on Chinese streets in 1989. He was on Tiananmen Square on 4 June that year as armed troops moved in to quash the protests, according to accounts from the time. Hundreds died in the crackdown.

He was one of three students behind one of the best-known confrontations with the government, when they knelt before the Great Hall of the People, home of the parliament next to the Square, asking the Premier Li Peng to accept a petition of demands.

After years in detention, Mr Zhou fled to the US in 1993. When he tried to return to China in 1998, he was sentenced to three years of "re-education through labour" and returned to the US in 2002. When he again tried to enter mainland China in September last year, he was detained crossing from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, his family said. He was recently moved to Suining. "He wanted to see his father, who is old and sick, but I didn't want him to go," said Ms Zhang.

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