Beijing deported a prominent Chinese-Australian artist on Monday, capping one of China’s most severe crackdowns on dissent in recent years.
Guo Jian, 52, was detained on June 1 for an alleged visa violation, according to China’s foreign affairs ministry. But friends of Mr Guo and human rights activists suspect the real reason for his deportation were his comments about the June 4 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which had been published a day earlier in the Financial Times along with pictures of his provocative artwork.
In one piece, Mr Guo covered a billiard table-sized diorama of Tiananmen Square with 160kg of minced pork, in an installation that evoked memories of the June 4 massacre in which hundreds if not thousands of people died.
Mr Guo’s deportation came just three days after Pu Zhiqiang, one of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers, was formally charged with “causing a disturbance” and illegally obtaining personal data. If convicted, Mr Pu could be sentenced to more than a decade in prison.
While Chinese authorities harass dissidents every year ahead of the Tiananmen anniversary, their actions this year were larger in scale with dozens of activists taken into formal custody.
“This year’s June 4 crackdown was different compared with previous years,” said Maya Wang at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong. “Usually it just involves putting people under house arrest for a few weeks. This [year’s crackdown] is a lot more serious in terms of the consequences for a lot of people.”
Mr Guo, a former People’s Liberation Army soldier and art student, participated in the 1989 protests and witnessed the massacre. He later emigrated to Australia, where he was granted citizenship before returning to Beijing in 2005, in part to be closer to his elderly parents. Before this year, his visa had been routinely renewed without any problems.
Mr Guo was not allowed to see his sister and friends, who waited hours for him at Beijing Capital International Airport on Monday afternoon. The artist was taken directly by authorities to his Air China flight to Sydney and spoke briefly by phone to his sister, friends and journalists before taking off, telling them that he was OK.
“He has been pretty optimistic and joked about his situation,” said one friend, Yang Xiaofang, who also briefly saw Mr Guo on June 6 when police escorted him back to his studio in Beijing’s eastern outskirts to collect some belongings. “But it may be a long time before he can come back.”
Mr Guo’s father is battling cancer in Shanghai. “We’ve just been thinking primarily of Jian’s well-being and the fact he’s leaving his father who’s not well,” said Suzanne Hempel at Melbourne’s Arc One Gallery, which represents the artist. “It’s very sad.”
“今年六四的打压与往年不同，”人权观察(Human Rights Watch)研究员阿莲(Maya Wang)在香港表示。“通常只是把相关人士软禁几周。今年的打击给很多人带来严重得多的后果。”
郭健的父亲正在上海与癌症搏斗。“我们主要在考虑郭健的福祉和他要离开病中的父亲这个事实，”代表这名艺术家的墨尔本Arc One艺术馆的苏珊?亨普尔(Suzanne Hempel)表示。“这一切非常令人悲伤。”