Nine gay rights activists were detained on Wednesday morning in Beijing right before they were meant to take part in a seminar discussing LGBT rights. The unprecedented security sweep that led to all nine activists being hauled off is “explicitly linked” to the upcoming June 4 anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdowns in Beijing, the event organizers said.
The nine people, including organizers and participants of the conference that was to be held on Wednesday morning, were taken to four police stations between 12 a.m. and 12 p.m. that day, according to the state-run Global Times. All of the activists have since been released.
One of the detained activists told the Times that police came without any warrant and invited them for questioning. Some of them were required to sign on the warrant after they were detained.
“They asked about the reasons why we want to attend the conference, and who would be invited to the conference,” A Qiang from Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays China, told the Global Times after being released.
The police demanded two of the activists to send out a message to call off the meeting, which was expected to host about 20 to 30 participants, through text messages, said the activists after release.
“I believe their main objective was to prevent us from attending the conference, as the issue we are dealing with is quite sensitive,” an activist who is now out of the police station told the Global Times.
The conference was meant to discuss legal procedures for establishing gay rights groups in China, among other issues.
The organizer of the event told the BBC that similar seminars have been held before, but the activists believe that this time, the security sweep was directly linked to sensitivity surrounding the upcoming Tiananmen anniversary.
“Arresting nine of us altogether is unusual,” the organizer said.
If such is the case, it would follow another high-profile arrest in Beijing believed to be related to the June 4 anniversary. Journalist and dissident Gao Yu was detained in April on charges of “leaking state secrets” to overseas contacts.
Gao was imprisoned for her support of the Tiananmen democracy movement in 1989 and is known for her political commentary on the matter. She was re-arrested on April 24, the same day she was supposed to attend a private meeting commemorating the 25th anniversary of the violent June 4 crackdown by Chinese troops in Tiananmen Square, Xinhua said.
Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Human Rights Watch, told the South China Post that the arrest was linked to the upcoming anniversary.
“The authorities appear to want to, at the very least, put these people out of action before June 4, and secondly be heavy-handed to deter other activists from planning any commemoration events,” she said.
Seeing as a seminar on gay rights issues is unconnected to June 4, the BBC says that the arrests may reveal the extent of officials’ anxiety and sensitivity leading up to the anniversary.
The Global Times omitted any mention of a possible link to the Tiananmen anniversary.
Shanghaiist reached out to one of the nine detained activists who first agreed to do an interview then backed out last minute.
[Image via CTVNews]