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China tightens security in Beijing on Tiananmen 25th anniversary

Human rights advocates say it’s only a matter of time before government recognizes killings of pro-democracy protesters

Human-rights advocates reported unprecedented security measures at China’s Tiananmen Square on Wednesday that barred Chinese from marking the 25th anniversary of pro-democracy protests there that ended with a government crackdown killing hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians.

Eyewitnesses in Beijing reported that access to the square, a symbol of the Chinese Communist Party’s nearly 65-year rule, had been restricted. Walking from Beijing’s Wangfujin shopping district a little over half a mile to Tiananmen, Twitter user Ban Yue Ban posted photos of three checkpoints he had to pass, with law enforcement officials checking his identification and searching his bag.

The human rights monitoring organization Amnesty International reported that 48 known dissidents — including activists, lawyers and artists — had disappeared or been detained by authorities ahead of the June 4 anniversary. Google and a number of other websites were blocked ahead of the day.

Renowned Chinese human rights advocate Hu Jia told Al Jazeera, while under detention in his Beijing home, that he hoped Chinese would still “return to the square” to achieve what he believes are China’s inevitable objectives of democracy and rule of law.

But by late afternoon in Beijing, it appeared that access to the site had been so heavily restricted that there would be no mass movement reminiscent of the one in 1989, despite attempts by New York–based dissident blogger Wen Yunchao to have people “Return to Tiananmen.”

Wen had mounted a long-distance campaign to return the ideals of democracy and transparency for China to the nation’s public and international media.

Still, he takes the government’s bolstered efforts to crack down on any ostensible sign of dissent as an indication of possible brewing unrest.

“If the government weren't worried that people would actually return to Tiananmen, the government wouldn't need to arrest journalists and lawyers, as they are,” Wen said.

“On the mainland there are efforts for people to gather together,” said Sharon Hom, director of the Hong Kong–based advocacy group Human Rights in China.

Hom spoke to Al Jazeera just before attending an annual vigil in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to commemorate the killings of the protesters.

“These activities are taking place in Beijing, Wuhan, Guangzhou, Shanghai. Despite the efforts to ignore any discussion of June 4, on the mainland you’re still getting people trying to memorialize the issue and demand a response” to what happened in 1989, she said.

Washington on Wednesday called on China to acknowledge the party’s crackdown on the student movement.

“Twenty-five years later, the United States continues to honor the memories of those who gave their lives in and around Tiananmen Square and throughout China, and we call on Chinese authorities to account for those killed, detained, or missing in connection with the events surrounding June 4, 1989,” the White House said in a statement.

Hom said official recognition isn’t likely to come anytime soon.

“There are not any signals from the leaders that they are going to be reassessing or taking any serious steps to accept the demands this year,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean that — as with the Cultural Revolution — the Chinese government won’t eventually face up to history. In 2012, then-Premier Wen Jiabao acknowledged, in an unprecedented move, that the Cultural Revolution was a “historical tragedy” amid a push to fight widespread corruption in China’s public sector.

“What would need to happen for that assessment to take place is already happening,” said Hom, referring to the number of dissidents like Hu and Wen who have pushed, within China and abroad, for a revival of the Tiananmen movement.

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