'Tracked for life': China relentless in erasing Tiananmen

'Tracked for life': China relentless in erasing Tiananmen

Three decades later, China’s ruling Communist Party remains relentless in its efforts to erase the general public memory of the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests that led to a deadly military crackdown

The ruling Communist Party’s deadly 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests never ended for Fan Baolin, who served 17 years in prison and says he sneaked out of China last year to flee surveillance that included cameras trained on his apartment and pressure on his family to discourage him from more activism.

Fan, who took part within the demonstrations and later worked for the party’s vast security apparatus, was arrested in 1999 for giving activists abroad confidential documents about surveillance of Chinese pro-democracy exiles. Released in 2016, he became among those that still are watched by the party a generation later in an attempt to erase public memory of the protests within the heart of Beijing.

“Once you're on the Chinese government’s blacklist, you'll be tracked for all times ,” Fan told The Associated Press before Friday’s anniversary of the June 4, 1989, military attack on protesters. He spoke in another Asian country and asked that it not be identified while its government considers his request for asylum.

Party leaders have imprisoned or driven activists into exile and largely succeeded in ensuring children know little about June 4. Still, after quite three decades and three changes of leadership, they're relentless in trying to stop any mention of the attack that killed hundreds and possibly thousands of individuals .

Relatives of these who died are watched and, before the anniversary, some are detained or forced to remain temporarily faraway from home to stop them from doing anything which may draw attention. Public memorials on the mainland always are prohibited. Vigils wont to be held openly in Hong Kong and Macao, Chinese territories with fewer political controls, but authorities banned events this year.

"They have only deepened repression,” said Yaqiu Wang of Human Rights Watch during a report this month.

Following his release from prison, Fan lived in his hometown of Xi'an, in China's west, under surveillance and restrictions. He said police discouraged him from leaving the town , tracked his mobile and listened to his calls.

To protect his family, Fan said he had little contact with them and told them nothing about his activities. He said he worried they could be punished if he were accused of more wrongdoing.

“They searched for my brother and sister,” he said. Authorities wanted “to make my relations persuade me, control me, to not participate any longer during this kind of thing, to not know these people any more .”

As for other relatives, “I take initiative to stay my distance from them,” Fan said.

“As all of them know, my phone is monitored, so as soon as I call and as soon as they answer, they're frightened,” he said. “This is that the atmosphere of fear created by the Communist Party’s domestic high-pressure policies now.”

Fan said when he traveled to other cities in 2017 to ascertain friends, police called a day to ask what he was doing. He said when he took a package vacation to Yunnan within the southwest in 2018, police detained him and sent him back to Xi’an.

Fan participated within the 1989 protests, joining thousands of scholars from across China in Tiananmen Square. But he left Beijing at the top of May, before the military attacked. His eyes fill with tears when he describes the event.

Later, Fan studied law and worked as a legal consultant before joining the police in Shaanxi province within the west. He moved to a state security agency in 1994 and was assigned to observe the general public and skim their mail, trying to find possible foreign ties.

But he held onto hopes for a democratic China.

Fan was convicted of “illegally providing state secrets abroad” for faxing security agency documents to a pro-democracy movement group in l. a. and “expressing sympathy and support,” consistent with a document Fan provided to the AP that he said was his sentencing report. It said he had promised to use his post to pass along intelligence reports about the group.

That report gave no details of the documents Fan was accused of leaking.

“I didn’t roll in the hay for money from Taiwan or the U.S. government,” Fan said. “I was on the side of the pro-democracy movement and provided intelligence to friends within the pro-democracy movement.”

Fan’s case was disclosed to human rights groups in 2007 by a former fellow inmate, Zhao Changqing, consistent with the Dui Hua Foundation in San Francisco , which researches Chinese prisons. then , Fan was listed as a prisoner by Duihua and human rights groups.

Fan said after his release, police took him out for meals before politically sensitive dates — a part of extensive efforts to stay track of him.

“They would return , list the small print of our meeting and report regularly to higher levels the so-called dynamics of my thoughts within the sensitive period and in what activities we took part,” he said.

Fan, who turns 57 next month, never married or had children. He said his parents died while he was in prison but he didn’t learn that until he was released, quite a decade later.

Fan said video cameras were installed to observe the apartment his parents bought for him before their deaths. He said that made friends skittish about visiting.

Today, Fan lives during a studio with a roll-up bed and a lover for furniture while he waits for word on his asylum application. He has become a Christian and passes time by reading a Bible on his mobile .

Fan said for his first two years out of prison, he rarely went outdoors because “the world was very strange.”

Fan said when he visited Beijing on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen protests in 2019, police called from Xi’an and ordered him to return home.

Fan said he told nobody after he decided to go away China. He discarded his mobile to stop authorities from using it to trace him. He made his thanks to the southern border and walked across.

“I won't return to China," he said. "This may be a road of no return.”


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