Goddess of Democracy at Congress on Tiananmen anniversary

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Jun 05, 2008

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Against the backdrop of a Goddess of Democracy statue, US lawmakers, human rights groups and dissidents converged on Capitol Hill Wednesday to mark the 1989 Tiananmen Square bloody massacre, calling for the release of all political prisoners in China.

"Today we remember the heroes of Tiananmen and call for the release of all political prisoners in China -- all political prisoners in China," said Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, as the midday sun shone on the 15-foot (4.6-meter) all-white statue in front of her.

It was a replica of the giant 33-foot (10-meter) Goddess of Democracy statue built by Chinese students out of styrofoam and papier-mache during the Tiananmen Square freedom protests that drew the fury of the Chinese regime.

Beijing troops destroyed the statue and gunned down the peaceful pro-democracy protesters on and around the square on June 4, 1989, leaving hundreds and possibly thousands dead.

"The dream of democracy, held so vividly by the students who constructed the statue of the Goddess of Democracy in Tiananmen Square, has proved to be, so far, a midsummer's night dream," said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, ranking Republican in the House foreign relations committee.

She warned the Chinese leadership against using force on groups expected to highlight human rights concerns during the Olympics in Beijing this summer, saying the international media would be in full force to capture any such repression.

"If repressive Chinese security forces, or hired thugs, move against these peaceful demonstrators with force, we will see a replay on our television screens of the tragedy of Tiananmen Square," she said.

Some of the Tiananmen crackdown was beamed across the globe live by the international media allowed into China at that time to cover the historic visit of then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

"We cannot let the bright gleam of Olympic gold blind us to the dark shadows cast by the heavy chains which hold today's China in bondage," Lehtinen said.

Pelosi read the names of several Chinese prisoners, including Hu Jia, who was recently sentenced for speaking out on the link between human rights and the Olympics, and journalist Shi Tao, serving a 10-year sentence for reporting on the 15th year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Also cited were the Panchen Lama, the second highest ranking figure in Tibetan Buddhism who has been allegedly held by Beijing since he was six years old in 1995, and the two imprisoned sons of China's Uighur Muslim leader Rebiya Kadeer, who is living in exile in the United States.

Pelosi, a Democratic lawmaker and fierce critic of China's human rights record, said the United States could not run away from its moral duty to press for greater freedom in China.

"Unless we do that, we will have lost all moral authority to speak out for human rights anyplace in the world," she said.

At the gathering, a 19-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl, whose parents had named her after the Tiananmen massacre, highlighted the plight of her medical doctor father Wang Bingzhang, currently serving life imprisonment in China.

Wang was allegedly kidnapped by the Chinese authorities when he travelled to Vietnam to meet Chinese labor activists in 2001.

"Medicine only cures a few patients but cannot cure the ill of a nation," Ti-Anna Wang quoted her father as saying when he gave up his medical career to devote himself to Chinese pro-democracy activism.

She said that when she visited her father in prison in August last year, he looked thin and weak and was unable to make eye contact, referring to what she called "the psychological strain of solitary confinement."

Chinese dissident Yang Jianli, who was freed in April last year after serving a five-year prison sentence for alleged spying, on Wednesday completed a 500 mile (804-kilometer) walk from Boston to the White House that took him nearly a month.

"At a time when the eyes of the world are on China, I'm walking to draw attention to those invisible people of China who have been abducted, imprisoned, or placed under house arrest, for no other reason than attempting to exercise their basic human rights," he said.