A student leader of the 1989 democracy protests in China has been arrested on fraud charges, his brother said yesterday, as authorities brace for the 20th anniversary of the demonstrations.
Zhou Yongjun (周勇軍) was a leader of the Beijing Students’ Autonomous Union, one of the most visible groups in the protests at Tiananmen Square, which ended on June 4, 1989, in an army crackdown that killed hundreds, possibly thousands.
Zhou’s family was told of the charges against him yesterday by police in southwestern China, more than seven months after he was reportedly seized while trying to return from the US, his brother Zhou Lin (周林) said.
“They told us the charges concerned fraud, but we are still unclear on the situation. We are waiting for more information,” Zhou Lin said by telephone.
He said his brother was charged in the family’s home city of Suining in Sichuan Province.
He said Zhou has a US “green card” denoting permanent residence status there, a fact that could make his arrest a potential source of friction with Washington.
A spokesman at the US embassy in Beijing said it had no comment on the case “at the present time.”
Zhou, now 41, has lived in the US for many years, his brother said.
Zhou was seized by authorities in the southern city of Shenzhen on Sept. 30 as he tried to enter China to visit his family, according to reports by the China Human Rights Defenders, a network of domestic and overseas activists.
Zhou Lin said he did not know how his brother could have committed fraud in China given that he had been out of the country for so long.
Several telephone calls to police headquarters in Suining went unanswered.
In related news, an estimated 30 men remain in prison for clashes with China’s military when it suppressed the Tiananmen Square democracy movement, a rights group said yesterday, sharply lowering its estimate of those still jailed from the crackdown.
The Dui Hua Foundation previously estimated that 60 Tiananmen prisoners were still in jail, but new information about prisoner releases from the Chinese government and a Chinese human rights campaigner prompted the San Francisco-based group to revise the figure.
The prisoners were jailed for burning army trucks, stealing equipment or attacking soldiers as the military advanced toward student-led protests on Tiananmen Square in central Beijing.
Most of the prisoners were young workers at the time of the demonstrations. Their continued imprisonment underscores the way the communist leadership handled the crackdown — harshly punishing the ordinary Chinese who joined the protests, while mainly giving lighter treatment to the students and others in the educated elite who led them.
In a statement, Dui Hua gave the names of 16 men either confirmed or believed to still be in jail based on information from the Chinese government or former inmates. It said there are likely about a dozen additional June 4 prisoners whose names are still not publicly known.
Dui Hua called on China to release the men, noting that many were sentenced to death or to life in prison after being convicted of counterrevolutionary sabotage and hooliganism — charges that were removed from China’s criminal code in a 1997 revision.
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