Student leader of '89 protests in China jailed Dissident returned from studies in U.S.

September 02, 1992|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- The first Tiananmen Square protest leader to return to China, Shen Tong, quietly came back a month ago to revive "the dream of democracy and freedom" at the heart of the 1989 demonstrations.

Yesterday his dream was crushed again.

Mr. Shen, 24, now a Boston University graduate student, was taken from his mother's home here early yesterday morning by security agents. A note in his handwriting received later by his family said that he is being held under "house arrest" at a local hotel, his grandmother said.

His detention came just hours before he was to announce to foreign and local reporters that he would try to legally establish here an extension of the Democracy for China Fund, a Newton, Mass.-based, human-rights group, which he founded and heads.

Mr. Shen hoped that this independent Beijing group would work openly for political pluralism in China, a goal never tolerated by the Communist Party here.

Since the 1989 crackdown on the protests in Tiananmen Square, Beijing's 100-acre public plaza, many dissidents here have been taken away for extra-legal detentions, particularly when they have threatened to publicize their ideas to Chinese citizens, as Mr. Shen planned to do.

Detained along with Mr. Shen were two other Chinese dissidents, Qi Dafang and Qian Liyun, who live in Beijing and who are among a small group of activists hired in recent weeks by Mr. Shen.

Two French journalists, who have been traveling with Mr. Shen, also were detained and some of their videotapes were confiscated, before they were deported yesterday to Hong Kong.

Additionally, Ross Terrill, a well-known Sinologist who was advising Mr. Shen, was briefly kept in his Beijing hotel room by hotel security guards after he was stopped by them from proceeding on his own with Mr. Shen's scheduled news conference yesterday morning.

Following two hours of discussions between U.S. diplomats and Chinese officials in Mr. Terrill's hotel room, he finally was allowed to leave the room about noon yesterday. The U.S. Embassy here later lodged a protest with China about Mr. Terrill's treatment and expressed concern about Mr. Shen's detention, an embassy spokeswoman said.

"There will be ripples in U.S.-China relations if they hold [Mr. Shen] a long time because he is very well connected in the United States," said Mr. Terrill, a research fellow at Harvard University.

"Shen's idea was to build a bridge between the pro-democracy forces in exile and people here. He foresaw his group doing business here, conducting research and public opinion polls, and running bookstores. He was hoping to build toward the day when a civil society would emerge in China independent of the government," Mr. Terrill said.

Mr. Shen's detention comes almost two weeks after China's State Council, the government's executive Cabinet, issued a public circular urging all Chinese students abroad to return to China and promising they would not be punished "regardless of their political attitudes."

In a statement prepared before his detention, Mr. Shen said, "I have come back with the same dream of democracy and freedom my friends and I struggled for in Tiananmen Square. . . . I do not know what will happen to me in China. . . . But I do know that no gun, no tank, nor any attempt to buy people off with consumerism, can destroy the need of the human spirit for freedom.

"Chinese society must be transformed through non-violent means by establishing political alternatives," he said. "A free China will be ours one day."

Mr. Shen's statement called on the Communist Party to match China's rapid economic development with greater political freedoms, including legitimizing for the first time political opposition groups here.

He asked Chinese intellectuals to boldly exercise the freedom of expression granted in theory by China's constitution. He also called on Chinese underground political groups to surface to "involve more people in the struggle for freedom."

During the Tiananmen protests, Mr. Shen, formerly a student at Beijing University, was a member of the student team that briefly negotiated with the government.

After the demise of the protests, he escaped to the United States where he graduated last year from Brandeis University in Massachusetts and wrote a book about the protests titled, "Almost a Revolution."

Mr. Shen legally but quietly came back to China at the start of August, entering under his Chinese passport and spending about three weeks using an assumed name in southern China, Marshall Strauss, executive director of the Democracy for China Fund, said in a telephone interview from Massachusetts yesterday.

In Beijing for about the last 10 days, Mr. Shen met privately with academics, cultural figures, dissidents and some government officials to discuss the need for political changes in China, Mr. Strauss said.

"Everyone was obviously stunned with his being there, but they encouraged him," Mr. Strauss said. "As a result, he and I felt it was appropriate for him to go public with the process of opening an office in Beijing."

Mr. Strauss said that, in two phone calls about 1 a.m. yesterday (Beijing time), Mr. Shen told him agents were at his house and used a pre-arranged code word to indicate he was going to be detained. Mr. Shen's grandmother, Guan Rubing, said the agents left with him about 4 a.m.

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