Ex-soldier who expressed regret over Tiananmen is detained

The Associated PressPublished: March 20, 2009

BEIJING: Chinese security forces have detained a former soldier who publicly expressed regret over his role in the 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy protests near Tiananmen Square, a human rights group said Friday.

The former soldier, Zhang Shijun, 40, published an open letter to Hu Jintao, the Communist Party leader, on the Internet in which he called on the party and government to reconsider its condemnation of the student-led protests.

The Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch said that Mr. Zhang had been taken from his home in the northern city of Tengzhou around 2 a.m. on Friday. The mainland-based group was citing a member of Mr. Zhang’s family who was not identified.

Mr. Zhang is one of a small number of martial law soldiers to come forward with their accounts and attack the government’s refusal to offer a full examination of the crackdown.

Hundreds of people, possibly thousands, are believed to have been killed when troops stormed into the center of Beijing the night of June 3-4, 1989, on orders from top party leaders.

The authorities are believed to be especially sensitive to such testimonials before the 20th anniversary this year of the crackdown.

Nicholas Bequelin, an Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, based in New York, said the fact that Mr. Zhang was willing to come forward has reinforced the conviction among many that “in the long run, a reassessment of those events is inevitable.”