BEIJING -- High-ranking Chinese judicial officers have told a visiting American Bar Association delegation that no more 1989 Tiananmen Square protesters will be put on trial -- a statement that underscores the extralegal limbo of hundreds, if not thousands, of demonstrators still languishing in Chinese jails.
ABA President John J. Curtin Jr. of Boston said yesterday that officials from China's supreme court and procuratorate, a type of prosecutor's office, maintained in meetings this week that the recent wave of trials had ended.
Since January, about three dozen protesters have been tried behind the closed doors of the Beijing Intermediate Court and sentenced to up to 13 years in prison. Though such prosecutions have been less frequent in recent weeks, they do not appear to have abated entirely.
Two weeks ago, three Hong Kong men were sentenced to up to five years in jail in the southern city of Canton for trying to help dissidents escape China after troops fired on pro-democracy demonstrators in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 3-4, 1989.
Last week, Han Weijun, 24, who set fire to an armored personnel carrier during the attack on the protesters, was executed, according to a public notice outside the Intermediate Court. This was the first reported execution linked to the protests since several dozen executions during the first weeks after the crackdown.
And this week, legal appeals by three intellectuals sentenced last month to the longest prison terms among all the dissidents tried -- Wang Juntao, Chen Ziming and Ren Wanding -- were rejected, according to relatives of the men.
Robin Munro of the U.S.-based human rights organization Asia Watch reacted with skepticism to the Chinese officials' claim that the prosecution of the Tiananmen dissidents was over. Even if no more trials were announced, he said, China probably would prosecute certain imprisoned dissidents in secret and simply hold others for several years in jails and labor camps under administrative detention.
Thousands of protest participants were arrested across China in the wake of the 1989 crackdown in Beijing and other cities. While China has announced the release of more than 900 of the activists since early last year, there has been no public accounting for the vast majority of the imprisoned.
In response to a formal State Department request late last year for detailed information about 150 of the prisoners, China recently gave U.S. Ambassador James R. Lilley only vague information at best, diplomatic sources say. Mr. Curtin said that similar inquiries by his ABA delegation also have drawn few details from Chinese officials.
Mr. Munro said he was particularly concerned about the fate of former railroad worker Han Dongfang, 27, who led an unofficial labor union formed during the protests, in part because officials have tended to reserve their harshest punishments for workers rather than students.
Mr. Han is believed to have been held in Beijing-area prisons for the last 21 months, though Mr. Curtin said the ABA group was told by Chinese supreme court officials that Mr. Han currently was "not in the formal judicial system."
Mr. Munro said that this did not mean that Mr. Han would not be tried, because others prosecuted over the last few months also were not technically considered to be within China's judiciary system until they were formally charged shortly before their trials.
Mr. Han will have to be either put on trial or kept under detention indefinitely, in which case Chinese officials will be under increased pressure to explain his fate, Mr. Munro said.