Hong Kong protests over death of Tiananmen dissident

Mass protests greeted Chinese President Hu Jintao in Hong Kong July 1, as he swore in a new chief executive and cabinet for the territory. The official ceremony included a rare show of People’s Liberation Army force in Hong Kong, with Hu reviewing passing columns of tanks and rocket launchers. The main demand of the demonstrators (estimated at 400,000) was an investigation into last month’s suspicious death of labor activist and 1989 Tiananmen Square protester Li Wangyang. Police used pepper spray on protesters, and a reporter from Hong Kong’s Apple Daily was detained after shouting out to Hu at a press conference: “Chairman Hu, have you heard that Hong Kong people hope to redress the June 4 incident?”—a reference to the 1989 protests. Hu’s visit coincided with the 15th anniversary of Chinese rule over Hong Kong. (Epoch Times, VOA, NYT, July 1)

Li’s mysterious death came on June 6, just two days after the Tianamen Square massacre anniversary. He was first said to have hanged himself out the window of his hospital room in Shaoyang, Hunan province, where he was being treated for heart disease and diabetes. Later, authorities switched and called it an accident. His family isn’t buying either version, and protest that his body was quickly cremated by authorities without their consent.

Li began his activist career as an advocate of labor rights in his native Hunan in the 1980s, organizing a “Shaoyang Workers Cooperative,” for which he was briefly imprisoned in 1983. He spent more than 22 years in prison after taking part in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989—the longest term of any of the Tiananmen protesters, although divided into two terms. He was first sentenced to 13 years and freed early in 2000, but was arrested again the following year and sentenced to 10 years, on apparently baseless charges of “assaulting state organs.” During the first term, he underwent torture, and was force-fed after going on hunger strike in protest. He was freed from the second term on May 29, 2011.

The prison experience apparently wrecked his health, leaving him blind and disabled. But just days before his death he had said in an interview with Hong Kong’s iCable TV that he would go on advocating for democracy—adding, “Even if I were beheaded, I would not regret it.” His most recent cause was demanding “universal suffrage” for Hong Kong—the new executive, Leung Chun-ying, was chosen by a 1,200-member “election committee” representing various interest groups approved by mainland authorities. At the request of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), LabourStart has launched a global online campaign demanding that the Chinese government open an investigation into Li’s death.

The protest campaign during Hu’s visit was organized by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which has actually established a “June 4 Memorial Museum” in Kowloon. (Bloomberg, June 30; Epoch Times, June 29; BBC News, June 17; CNN, June 15; BBC News, Epoch Times, June 12; China Digital Times, BBC News, June 6; Global Freedom Movement)

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