Pompeo urges China to free political prisoners to mark Tiananmen

US secretary of state calls on China to make a full public account of the crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen protests.

    Pompeo urged China to make a full public account of those killed or missing in the 1989 protests [Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters]
    Pompeo urged China to make a full public account of those killed or missing in the 1989 protests [Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters]

    US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called on China to mark the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square uprising this week by releasing all prisoners jailed for fighting human rights abuses.

    In remarks coming a day before the sensitive date for Beijing, Pompeo said in a statement on Monday that the step would "begin to demonstrate the Communist Party's willingness to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms."

    "We call on China to release all those held for seeking to exercise these rights and freedoms, halt the use of arbitrary detention, and reverse counterproductive policies that conflate terrorism with religious and political expression," he said.

    Pompeo also urged China to make a full public account of those killed or missing in the 1989 student-led pro-democracy protests in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

    The Chinese government sent tanks to quell the June 4, 1989 protests and has never released a death toll.

    Estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.

    Pompeo said China's human rights record had not improved despite its rise on the international stage.

    "Over the decades that followed, the United States hoped that China's integration into the international system would lead to a more open, tolerant society. Those hopes have been dashed," he said.

    Pompeo condemned the treatment of the country's estimated 1.5 million Uighurs and other Muslim groups in the Xinjiang region.

    "China's one-party state tolerates no dissent and abuses human rights whenever it serves its interests," said Pompeo.

    "Today, Chinese citizens have been subjected to a new wave of abuses, especially in Xinjiang, where the Communist Party leadership is methodically attempting to strangle Uighur culture and stamp out the Islamic faith."

    'Correct decision'

    State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus upset China when she referred to the Tiananmen demonstrations as a "full-on massacre of peaceful protesters" during a briefing last week.

    Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe said on Sunday that the crackdown was the "correct" decision, citing the country's "stability" since then.

    He said that China's development since 1989 showed that the government's actions were justified.

    The Tiananmen protests were "political turmoil that the central government needed to quell, which was the correct policy," he said. "Due to this, China has enjoyed stability, and if you visit China you can understand that part of history."

    His comments echoed those of Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian, who last week decried the use of the word "suppression" to describe the military's response to the 1989 protests.

    China at the time blamed the protests on counter-revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the party.

    The crackdown remains one of the most sensitive subjects in mainland China and any mention is strictly censored. It continues to be a point of contention between China and many Western countries. 

    It happened in Tiananmen Square

    It happened in Tiananmen Square

    SOURCE: News agencies