BEIJING — The government's shrill ideological crackdown gathered steam Saturday when a Beijing court sentenced eight people to death for resisting a bloody military assault on pro-democracy demonstrators two weeks ago, and four Western journalists left the country under deportation orders.
The death sentences, announced on state-run China Central Television, were the first meted out against people alleged to be directly involved in civil disobedience during the weekend of June 3-4, when the People's Liberation Army mounted a massive assault on the city to drive pro-democracy demonstrators from Tian An Men Square. The seven men and one woman were accused of burning army vehicles and beating soldiers.
On Thursday, three people were sentenced to death by a court in Shanghai for burning a train during an anti-government protest in that coastal city June 6.
Hints of More Punishment
Yuan Mu, spokesman for the State Council, which is China's Cabinet, suggested in an interview broadcast on national television Saturday evening that capital punishment will follow for some of the hundreds of others detained in a sweeping crackdown on the democracy movement.
"In coming months, a small number . . . of people of this kind will also be duly punished because of their heinous crimes," Yuan told NBC anchor Tom Brokaw in a taped interview.
Yuan reiterated the government's position that there were no casualties when soldiers cleared the square, contradicting reliable eyewitness reports. He told a seemingly incredulous Brokaw that reports of a "blood bath" when troops entered the square were "groundless" and that students "withdrew peacefully in rows and waving banners."
The shootings took place off the square, he said. Chinese officials put the death toll at less than 300 for the entire weekend, half of them soldiers, while Western diplomats estimate that at least several hundred and perhaps thousands of civilians died when soldiers cut a bloody swath through the city in approaching Tian An Men Square.
Authorities opened the square to the public Saturday morning for the first time since the killings, busing in thousands of children belonging to the Young Pioneers, a Communist youth organization. The children lined up in perfect rows for a ceremony at the Monument to the People's Heroes commemorating soldiers who died taking the square.
Later in the day, John Pomfret of the Associated Press and Alan W. Pessin of the Voice of America left Beijing for Hong Kong, three days after receiving deportation orders for violating martial law. They were the first resident journalists to be expelled from China for news coverage of the tumultuous political situation here.
Also Saturday, two visiting British journalists, Vernon Mann and John Elphinstone of Independent Television News, departed after being ordered out of China for their reporting from the provincial capital of Chengdu, where violence occurred in tandem with the military attack in Beijing two weeks ago. A week earlier, one of their colleagues from ITN was expelled from Shanghai for covering a minor demonstration there.
In an unnerving reminder of the ongoing atmosphere of repression, a band of plainclothes police officers were observed detaining a Chinese woman who had been visiting a Western diplomat at Jianguomenwai diplomatic compound shortly after 10 p.m. Saturday. The reason for her detention was not made clear.
Two "ruffians" were captured Saturday after exchanging gunfire with soldiers, the New China News Agency reported, but it was not clear whether the incident had anything to do with protests of martial law.
Central Television's news broadcast was a continuation of the strident propaganda blitz that Chinese authorities have heaped upon citizens for weeks now. The defendants condemned to death--identified as peasants, unemployed workers and vagrants--were filmed being led into Beijing Intermediate Court with their heads bowed.
Woman in Handcuffs
Also featured was a 46-year-old woman in handcuffs who was arrested after she supposedly confessed to spreading rumors and shouting, "Soldiers and police are all fascists!"
So far, more than 1,200 students, workers, intellectuals and so-called hooligans have reportedly been arrested nationwide in connection with the democracy movement or with rioting triggered by its suppression.
Yuan, in his televised interview, gave what appeared to be the first official confirmation that Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang faces discipline, and probably dismissal, for sympathizing with student demonstrators.
"It is true that a certain individual in the top leadership erred in supporting riots," Yuan said. "The problem will be dealt with and made public soon."
No Criminal Trial for Zhao
But Zhao would be spared a criminal trial for his wrongdoing, Yuan suggested.
"The problem is one within the party and will be dealt with in accordance with the party constitution," he said.
Meanwhile, China's trade minster, Zheng Tuobin, reportedly told foreign officials that the country's policy of economic reforms will stay on track despite the recent unrest.
Foreign businessmen have hastily evacuated China and left dangling a range of investment and business transactions, presumably until the long-range impact of the turmoil becomes clear.
Zheng urged foreign governments to take a "farsighted view" of the situation and "return to the road of cooperation with China for mutual benefits," the China Daily reported Saturday.
And on Saturday, the government allowed civilians onto Tian An Men Square, where tanks and troops crushed pro-democracy demonstrations two weeks ago.