China frees three activists after Tiananmen anniversary

China frees three activists after Tiananmen anniversary

BEIJING - China released on Thursday three activists who had been detained for a month for attending a meeting to commemorate the military suppression of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, their lawyers said.

The activists were freed a day after the 25th anniversary of the bloody crackdown, marked by tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong, even as Chinese authorities sought to whitewash the event in the mainland.

Two of their peers remained in custody.

The detentions had sparked criticism from the United States and the European Union, with both calling for their release. China issued new, stronger objections to renewed complaints from the United States and lodged a diplomatic protest.

For the ruling Communist Party, the 1989 demonstrations that clogged Tiananmen Square in Beijing and spread to other cities remain taboo. The government has never released a death toll for the crackdown, but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.

Liu Di and Hu Shigen, both dissident writers, and Xu Youyu, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank, were released on bail, their lawyers and a relative said.

All three had been detained for "causing a disturbance" in connection with the meeting held in a private apartment.

The activists' lawyers said the charge lacked evidence. Under China's bail terms, they could still be indicted, but that prospect seemed unlikely, said Shang Baojun, a lawyer for Xu.

"It goes without saying that he should have been let out," Shang said. "Arresting someone for holding a meeting at home, this is too ridiculous. Prosecuting them for this will be even more outrageous."

The activists had been detained on May 6 after they attended the meeting to mark the 25th anniversary of the crushing of protests around Tiananmen Square. A photograph of the gathering had circulated on the Internet.

It was the first time authorities had charged anyone for commemorating the crackdown in a home, activists said, showing China's resolve to snuff out any mention of an event that riveted the world and convulsed the ruling Communist Party.

Liu, a blogger who became a symbol for free speech when she was detained in 2002 for criticising the government, refused to admit guilt, said Ma Gangquan, her lawyer. Ma said Liu should have been released because she had no role in organising the meeting or taking the photograph distributed on the Internet.

"At the forum, Liu Di's speech had nothing to do with the June 4 issue," Ma said, adding that she had advocated non-violence to bring about change.

Hu, who had spent 16 years in prison after he planned June 4 memorial activities in 1992, was released on bail, according to his lawyer, Liang Xiaojun.

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