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China detains artist before Tiananmen anniversary

  • Guo Jian’s “Untitled,” 2007, oil on canvas, 152 x 213cm. Courtesy of the artist

  • Guo Jian’s Diorama of Tiananmen, 2010-2011, mixed medium, 460 x 220cm. Courtesy of the artist

BEIJING: A Chinese-born Australian artist and former protester in China's 1989 pro-democracy movement was taken away by Chinese authorities shortly after a profile of him appeared in the Financial Times newspaper in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the military clampdown on the student protest centered around Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

An Associated Press reporter talked to Guo Jian as he was taken away from his home in suburban Beijing Sunday night. Guo said he would be held by police until June 15.

It is the latest in a string of detentions of artists, lawyers, scholars and journalists ahead of the Tiananmen anniversary amid intense government efforts to deter coverage by foreign media of its remembrance.

After a stint as a soldier, Guo was studying art in Beijing when he was swept into the 1989 student protests and witnessed the military crackdown that began on the night of June 3, 1989.

"I didn't believe it, even though I had been a soldier," Guo was quoted as saying in an article published in the Financial Times last week. "In the army I had never seen that sort of violence. Then I saw the tracers and people falling around me -- they were just gone."

Discussions of the protest and its military suppression are taboo in China, and authorities tighten security ahead of the anniversary each year.

This year's suppression has been harsher than in previous years, as police round up activists who had received no more than warnings in the past.

In an attempt to prevent any commemoration, the authorities have detained dozens of people or put them under house arrest since early May, including prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang. Other activists have been warned by the authorities not to speak to foreign media.

Police also have cautioned foreign journalists not to cover any sensitive issues in the run up to the anniversary, or face "serious consequences."

A French broadcaster said its journalists were interrogated for six hours by Beijing police when they were found interviewing people on the street about the events 25 years ago. The journalists were forced to say in front of a police video camera that they did something "very sensitive" that could cause "disturbance," and promise not to do it in the next several days, before police returned their press cards, the broadcaster said.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China condemned the practices and called for them to halt.

"This effort to deter news coverage is a gross violation of Chinese government rules governing foreign correspondents, which expressly permit them to interview anybody who consents to be interviewed," the FCCC said in a statement.

The Europe Union also expressed its concern.

"While acknowledging China's advancement of the economic and social wellbeing of its people in the past 25 years," it said in a recent statement, “the EU also hopes to see greater space open up for discussion and debate about China's recent history and for lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists to carry out their work without harassment or interference.”

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a statement saying it is seeking information on Guo's reported detention and is ready to provide him with consular assistance.

Guo's latest art work was covering a miniature model of Tiananmen Square with 160 kilograms (350 pounds) of minced pork, which the artist removed once the meat turned rotten, the FT reported.

 
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Summary

A Chinese-born Australian artist and former protester in China's 1989 pro-democracy movement was taken away by Chinese authorities shortly after a profile of him appeared in the Financial Times newspaper in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the military clampdown on the student protest centered around Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

This year's suppression has been harsher than in previous years, as police round up activists who had received no more than warnings in the past.

Police also have cautioned foreign journalists not to cover any sensitive issues in the run up to the anniversary, or face "serious consequences".

A French broadcaster said its journalists were interrogated for six hours by Beijing police when they were found interviewing people on the street about the events 25 years ago.


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