Tania Branigan in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Friday 20 March 2009 09.43 GMT
Chinese authorities have detained a former soldier after he expressed regret over his role in 1989's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, a human rights group said today.
Zhang Shijun, 40, published an open letter to Hu Jintao, the Chinese president and Communist leader, on the internet, urging the party and government to reconsider its condemnation of the demonstrations. He also gave an interview to a foreign reporter on Tuesday.
According to the Associated Press (AP) news agency, he was called in to his local police station the following day and ordered not to speak to the foreign media.
The subject is especially sensitive because this year marks the 20th anniversary of the protests, which ended in a massacre in the Chinese capital.
Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch said a relative had told them that Zhang was taken from his home in the northern city of Tengzhou at about 2am today.
AP reached Zhang by mobile phone this afternoon, but he said he was not at home and that it was "not convenient to talk". His wife told AP she had not heard from him or seen him.
In his interview this week, Zhang told the agency that he hoped to add momentum to calls for an investigation and reassessment of the protest movement and to further its ultimate goal of a democratic China.
"Back then, we felt it would all be addressed in the near future. But democracy just seems further and further away," he said.
"I feel like my spirit is stuck there on the night of 3 June," he said, referring to the date when the military was ordered to clear the square.
Zhang said his unit, the 54th army, came under attack as it approached the square and some of the soldiers fired over the heads of civilians as a warning. But he said he knew of no deaths caused by his unit. Official files on the events remain closed, but reports by witnesses suggest that most of the hundreds of deaths took place in other parts of Beijing.
Zhang said other details were still too sensitive to reveal.
According to AP, Zhang asked for an early discharge because he had not expected to be sent to fight ordinary Chinese citizens. He was arrested in 1992 after beginning a discussion group promoting market economics and politics, and sentenced to three years in a labour camp for political crimes. He claimed those charges were in retaliation for his decision to leave the army early.