A half-dozen activists huddled late Saturday night under a statue of revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen in Chinatown to begin the first night of a planned eight-day fast designed to bring attention to the prosecution of demonstrators arrested after the brutal military crackdown at Tian An Men Square.
The activists, three of whom fled Beijing after witnessing the deaths of scores of demonstrators in the square in 1989, say the Chinese government waited until now--when the world's attention has focused on developments in the Persian Gulf--to conduct judicial proceedings against those arrested for participating in the Tian An Men rallies.
"Before, when the government brought up the subject of trials, it immediately drew attention," said hunger strike organizer Andrew Kwong.
"But a year and a half has gone by since Tian An Men. Now, because of the tense situation in the gulf, the attention is definitely not on China. This is the best time for the government to do what they want with the protesters."
Recently, the Chinese government began court trials for the first group of at least 350 protesters arrested in Beijing during the months after the violent evening of June 4, 1989. That night, troops crushed a peaceful demonstration by tens of thousands of Chinese gathered at Tian An Men Square. Scores of demonstrators were shot to death by soldiers or crushed by trucks and tanks.
The protesters' court proceedings did not become public until after guilty verdicts already had been reached in nine cases, Kwong said. On Jan. 5, the government announced that those protesters had been given prison terms of two to four years. Neither Chinese nor foreign journalists were allowed to attend the proceedings and officials have refused to comment.
"We are very worried about our friends who are still in China," said Zhen Cheng, 24, a Chinese literature student at Beijing Normal University before the crackdown and a participant in the fast. "We can't forget about them."
Zhen said that the Chinese government is trying to avoid bringing attention to the prosecution of activists, out of fear of economic reprisal from countries like the United States.
Shortly after Tian An Men, the United States rebuffed China for the oppressive measures it took to break the democracy movement. But economic sanctions were brief, Zhen noted.