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Commentary: Tiananmen Square legacy lingers

By Trudie Styler, Special to CNN
  • Trudie Styler produced the 1994 documentary on Tiananmen Square, "Moving Mountains"
  • She says China is still attempting to silence freedom of expression
  • The film will be airing this weekend on

Editor's note: Trudie Styler is the founder of Xingu Films, co-founder of Maven Pictures and producer of the 1994 documentary, "Moving Mountains".

Few images have seared the mind like the footage of a lone and unarmed man in white, standing before a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square. On that day in 1989, thousands of civilians, mostly students and intellectuals, gathered in peaceful assembly for democracy. The Chinese government brutally suppressed the protest, opening live fire on the demonstrators, killing hundreds.

The 1994 documentary "Moving the Mountain" directed by Michael Apted depicts the well-known events of 1989. Liu Xiaobo, who was a visiting scholar in the United States at the time, returned to Beijing to join the hunger strike at Tiananmen Square and to appeal for peaceful negotiations between the students and the government. "Moving the Mountain" captures the power and passion of this movement through a unique combination of newsreel footage, dramatic re-enactments and interviews with some of the actual student leaders, exploring their personal histories, reflections and thoughts on the future.

Today, more than two decades after this massacre, China is still attempting to silence freedom of expression.

Dr. Liu Xiaobo, first detained for his participation in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, is now imprisoned indefinitely on "suspicion of inciting subversion of state power." Liu co-authored the Charter 08, a treatise urging China to comply with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the last three years, Liu has been subjected to overly-cruel and illegal surveillance, torture and solitary confinement.

In 2010, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Chinese government forbade both Liu and his wife from attending the ceremony. An empty chair was left on stage in Liu's honor, a testament to the first time since the 1930s that a Nobel Peace Prize was not awarded during the ceremony. In a statement from Liu read to the audience he said, "I have no enemies, and no hatred."

Ai Weiwei, a prominent Chinese artist best known for designing the Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing, is imprisoned for speaking out against government secrecy and spreading anti-authority messages.

Amnesty International has documented widespread censorship, extrajudicial arrests, and other human rights violations across China. Minority groups such as the Tibetans and Uighurs have suffered persecution at the hands of the government. China is currently the leading country in death penalty executions.

The legacy of Tiananmen Square lives on in these and other prisoners who continue to languish in secret labor camps, in state prisons, and under house arrest. As long as they are bound, none of us are free.

Join Amnesty International in calling for the release of Liu Xiaobo, Ai Weiwei, and all Chinese political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.

To learn more about the struggle for democracy in China and what you can do to help, watch the broadcast of "Moving the Mountain" on Link TV on June 4th, followed by a panel discussion convened by Culture Project, featuring myself, director Michael Apted and AIUSA's Executive Director Larry Cox moderated by Culture Project's Director of Productions Jayashri Wyatt.