Germany: The April 25th incident: The view of a Berliner

One day in April 1999, Mrs. Lilge was watching a local German TV news station reporting that many Chinese people stood on the sidewalks to launch a petition in the neighbourhood of Zhong Nai Hai, where the central Chinese government is located. A question arose in her mind immediately. At the same time, however, she also saw a hope.

The question in her mind was “Is the freedom of assembly really allowed in China?” and “Is it possible that it was merely a trap set up by the Chinese communist regime?” On the other hand, her hope was also very definite upon seeing the people on the TV screen: These people were very peaceful, indicating that they had rationality. Trying to reflect their opinions to the government illustrated their intention to participate in decision-making for their own future. A country ruled by dictatorship definitely needed these kind of citizens. What she saw on the TV was the group appeal made by ten thousand Falun Gong practitioners in Beijing on April 25th 1999.

Terror in East Germany

As the chief editor of a German biweekly, she is very sensitive about the issues in communist countries. That sensitivity derives not only from a broad knowledge and delicate observation and analysis of the current affairs, but also from her personal experience.

She used to live in East Berlin ruled by the Communist Party before she had turned seven. She often heard “somebody was taken away last night” in the conversations of the adults. Nobody knew exactly where that person was taken to. The only thing they knew was that the Soviet Red Army took that person away, and he might have been expatriated to Siberia. Every time when somebody knocked at the door, the first reaction of her parents was to hide away West Germany’s newspaper was hidden and the radio was turned off before they opened the door. Her father cautioned her the only thing she could ever discuss with others publicly was weather. He was afraid that a child as young as she could leak these “secrets” unwittingly. The time back then was ten years before the Berlin Wall was built in 1961. People who lived in East Berlin under Soviet communist occupation could still travel to the democratic West Berlin. However, they were not allowed to listen to the broadcast of West Berlin, read West Berlin newspaper, or emigrate to West Berlin unless a family in West Germany immigrated to the East as a trade off. Thanks to the movement of a West Germany family to Leipzig in East Germany, Mrs. Lilge’s family finally moved to West Berlin in 1950.

Behaving magnanimously in the shadow

When she talked about her previous life in the former East Germany, Mrs. Lilge, in her sixties now, is still affected by the sensation of insecurity, concealed deeply in her heart. When she saw on TV in April 1999 that so many people in China, a communist country under strict control, were unexpectedly allowed to stay at the site of the central government for such a long time without being interfered with by the police and foreign news media were permitted to film the event, her instincts told her this might have been a trap set up by the Chinese government. Her suspicion was affirmed after she read the report of Human Rights Watch and the testimonies of those who participated in the April 25th appeal.

Ever since she saw the news coverage on TV, she has been paying close attention to the evolution of the event, hoping that a similar massacre of students and citizens as that in Beijing in June 1989 would not occur. The year 1989 was exactly the one in which the Berlin Wall was torn down. During the years spanning ahead of and after 1989, the communist regimes in Eastern European collapsed on after another. As a West Berliner, Mrs. Lilge was far more concerned abut the series of changes than any other people in West Germany because West Berlin was literally a lonely island surrounded by communist states.

West Berlin had no common borders with any other part of West Germany. Its connection with West Germany relied on three highways, three railroads and air flights. East Germany had attempted for several times to cut down the traffic connections between West Berlin and West Germany. Even though West Berliners lived in democracy, enjoyed freedom of information and assembly, and had the rights to participate in politics, their lives were shadowed by the Communist Party. Such experiences have made her steadfastly opposed to autocracy. She deeply believes every dictatorship is destined for extinction. It is just a matter of time.

After seeing the TV news coverage, she obtained a general understanding about what had happened from Falun Gong’s websites. She also read several reports of interviews conducted with the people who participated in the event. The direct cause that brought ten thousand Falun Gong practitioners to appeal at Zhong Nan Hai in April 1999 was an article published by a Tianjin-based magazine that slandered Falun Gong. Many Falun Gong practitioners came to Tianjin to clarify the facts. The attitudes of the publisher were quite amicable in the beginning, but they changed their position drastically soon. The police were summoned, and more than thirty Falun Gong practitioners were arrested while some were injured. Other practitioners moved to Tianjin city government to make an appeal, but the Tianjin city government did not want to get involved. Practitioners were told to find a solution in Beijing. As a result, practitioners went to the Appeal Office of the State Council, located in the neighbourhood of Zhong Nai Hai. Joined by local Beijing practitioners, they stood in the surrounding areas of Zhong Nai Hai under the police guidance. Nobody took extreme action.

Are different results possible?

In the view of Mrs. Lilge, every step in the course of the event could have lead to totally different results if the event had occurred in Germany. If a magazine publishes an article that deviates from the facts and is peacefully approached by many people for clarification, the magazine office wouldn’t neglect or set aside the readers’ voice. The news media in German run their business independently. Their survival relies on the readers. When so many readers come to the magazine’s office, even the chief editor has to pay attention to the event. The magazine will need to correct their mistake if it turns out to be the case. There would not be any instruction from the superiors about how to deal with the readers. The police don’t have to be present, either.

On second thoughts, even if the police were summoned, they will most likely stay aside as observers. According to Mrs. Lilge’s experience in attending several marches, the police will not interfere unless violence or insults occur. In the view of Mrs. Lilge, however, the attitudes of the Communist Party Chinese set the standards for the police’s arrest in China. Just like people were taken away by the Soviet Communist Party in former East Germany, the attitudes of the Communist Party are the rules.

Another thought is that those people who are arrested by the police because of a peaceful rally in Germany can sue the German government because the government has to obey the constitution and uphold citizens’ rights of speech and assembly. Moreover, the judiciary operates independently from the government. Owing to the considerations of economic interests, the German government ordered the police to interfere with Falun Gong practitioners’ freedom of assembly and was sued by Falun Gong practitioners. After court meditation, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Federal Government and the counterparts of several state governments released letters of apology publicly. This is not an individual case. Amnesty International has also successfully sued the German government on the same matter several years ago. Mrs. Lilge believes these lawsuits are quite normal in western society because the law should always supercede the government or any private individual. The law is as crucial as bread and water. Of course, she understands that everything in a communist state is tightly controlled in the hands of the Communist Party. Suing a communist government following the legal processes is as non-feasible as attempting to slap the back of a hand using the same hand.

As people’s rights of holding a march or a protest are not allowed in China, the only way for them is to appeal at the government office. In contrast, marches and protests in Germany are quite common. Unless violence or humiliating banners are used in a march, the authorities are under an obligation to issue permission and dispatch policemen to lead the march and protect the attendees. No matter where the protests are held, the parliament and the office of the prime minister included, people can stay there as long as they keep away from violence. Falun Gong practitioners used to hold peaceful appeals at the Parliament and the office of the Prime Minister for several consecutive weeks, expressed their wishes for stopping the persecution against Falun Gong in China. No problem occurred throughout the course. Mrs. Lilge considers this is the way it should be. As a government that obtains the ruling power from a civil election, the authorities have to seriously consider the possibility of losing the upcoming election if the government indeed restrains citizens’ freedom to rally.

Excuse or nature?

The fact that Jiang’s group started persecuting Falun Gong within three months after the occurrence of the April 25th incident has again validated Mrs. Lilge’s understanding about the Communist Party obtained in the past sixty years as a West Berliner and a world citizen. The understanding is that the Communist Party always pushes people to the extreme and that the Communist Party always finds excuses to suppress demonstrations even though the demonstrations are legal, peaceful and based on good reasons.
As the sixth anniversary of the April 25th incident is approaching, Mrs. Lilge recalled the innumerable persecution reports she had read as well as the testimonies she had listened to from the practitioners who were persecuted in China. The conclusion she draws is that Falun Gong is a group with a nature and objectives totally different from the Communist Party. For this group of people who hold steadfast beliefs in “truthfulness, compassion, tolerance” and cherish these principles as precious as their own lives, the Chinese Communist Party would still fabricate excuses to suppress them even if the April 25th group appeal had not occurred. The ultimate cause for suppressing Falun Gong is not the group appeal on April 25th 1999. Instead, it is the nature of the manipulation and suppression of the Communist Party.

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