Police in Beijing briefly detain U.S. legislators

September 05, 1991|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING -- Chinese policemen briefly attempted to detain three visiting U.S. legislators yesterday after they paid homage to the hundreds of pro-democracy protesters who were killed near Tiananmen Square two years ago.

Standing at the base of a monument in the huge square, the three critics of China's hard-line regime each placed on the ground one white flower and together unfurled a small black banner with white lettering in both English and Chinese that said, "To Those Who Died for Democracy in China."

"These three flowers symbolize liberty, justice and democracy," said Representative Ben Jones, D-Ga., as he held the banner waist-high along with Representative Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Representative John Miller, R-Wash.

"Those who died here on June 4, 1989, did not die in vain," Mr. Jones said. "They were martyrs to these three principles that we all hold dear, and they were catalysts to the extraordinary changes that we see happening throughout the world."

The short-lived tribute drew an immediate and strong reaction from armed policemen and plainclothes security agents in the vicinity.

JTC "Stop him, stop him," shouted a security agent, who had been posing as a tourist, as Mr. Miller attempted to stroll away.

A handful of panicked policemen, whose pistols remained in their holsters, prevented the three legislators from leaving the area for several confusing minutes.

The officers also grabbed and punched cameramen filming the incident for three American TV networks.

"We were just trying to show our sympathy and the sympathy of the American people," Mr. Miller said as he and his two companions walked away unharmed.

"We regret any embarrassment to our Chinese hosts that this may cause, but the guards did not understand and they reacted," he said.

Seven TV journalists and cameramen were detained for up to an hourand 15 minutes, while Chinese policemen debated whether to release two of their videotapes that were confiscated. No one was injured, and the tapes were returned.

"We've been told now for two days [in private meetings with Chinese officials] that there is no prohibition on freedom of speech in China," Mrs. Pelosi, one of the strongest congressional critics of China's post-Tiananmen repression, said as she left the square visibly shaken.

"This does not conform to what we were told.

"Tiananmen Square is a magnet for us," she said. "There is no way we could come here without being drawn to the square."

The three legislators, who are expected to leave China today, arrivedMonday on a self-described "human rights" mission to publicize the plight of perhaps more than 1,000 Chinese dissidents still imprisoned for their roles in the Tiananmen demonstrations. Their trip was sponsored partly by the Democracy for China Fund, a U.S.-based group seeking a dialogue between exiled activists and Chinese authorities.

The U.S. politicians' appeals particularly focused on two alleged leaders of the 1989 protests, Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming, who launcheda hunger strike, at least briefly, in their jail cells three weeks ago. The two dissidents have become the focus of an international campaign.

In meetings with Chinese officials, the legislators warned that renewal of China's favorable trade status with the United States should not be taken for granted without substantial improvement in its human rights record.

They claimed that the fall of communism in the Soviet Union would now turn attention back to human rights abuses in China, making it harder for Congress to sustain an expected presidential veto of legislation attaching conditions to renewal of the profitable trade status.

At a news conference before the incident in the square, however, the only progress the legislators reported was that two high-level public security and justice officials told them that authorities here may consider allowing international human rights groups to inspect prisons and visit prisoners.

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