It has been thirty years since the Tiananmen Square massacre, yet China now has even harsher political repression and horrific human rights abuses as the country has catapulted up world economic rankings.

Multitudes of reports of artists, writers, journalists, singers, and so on who have lost everything including their lives for being outspoken about the Tiananmen Square massacre that happened on June 4, 1989, have been brought to light over the years.

Recently, one such artist, Chinese rock musician Li Zhi, disappeared from public view entirely.

First, Li’s tour was canceled and his social media accounts were taken down. Then his music was removed from all of China’s major streaming sites, as if he’d never existed. In the end, Li could not be found.

Li is an outspoken artist who performs folk-rock. He sang thought-provoking ballads about social ills, and unlike most entertainers in China, he dared to broach the taboo subject of the Tiananmen Square massacre—a pro-democracy protest that ended in bloodshed. 

In this May 28, 1989 file photo, students rest in the litter of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, as their strike for government reform enters its third week. Thirty years since the Tiananmen Square protests, China’s economy has catapulted up the world rankings, yet political repression is harsher than ever. (AP Photo/Jeff Widener, File)

It’s estimated thousands of protesters died on the night of June 3 and in the early hours of June 4. Li’s songs alluded to the massacre in Tiananmen Square. “The Square,” “The Spring of 1190,” and “The Goddess,” in which Li sings honoring the Goddess of Democracy the students had erected.

But those were older songs. His recent songs had avoided making political statements. He was more focused on promoting his performances.

In this early June 4, 1989 file photo, a student protester puts barricades in the path of an already burning armored personnel carrier that rammed through student lines during an army attack on pro-democracy protesters on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. (AP Photo/Jeff Widener, File)

Efforts to silence any mention of the massacre has been a macabre annual tradition since it happened. This being the 30th anniversary has the Chinese communist regime ultra-sensitive to any criticism.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group, said 13 people have either been detained or taken away from their homes in connection with the anniversary. Among them are several artists who recently embarked on a “national conscience exhibit tour” and a filmmaker who was detained after tweeting images of a liquor bottle commemorating June 4.

The bottle’s label featured a play on words using “baijiu,” China’s signature grain alcohol, and the Chinese words for 89, or “bajiu.” A court convicted four people involved in designing the bottle in April.

Let that sink in: Using the number 89 will get you a jail sentence in China

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Horrific atrocities

Li’s case is one instance of the sad and tragic endings those in China face for being brave enough to speak out. However, these abuses are considered everyday occurrences in China. People who dare act or speak outside of the strict boundaries the Chinese regime dictates may suffer consequences heard or seen only in horror movies.

Protesting against the communist party in large groups will get hundreds or thousands killed. Even exposing the communist party’s actions, such as the massacring of thousands of unarmed students protesting for democracy, or practicing religion freely without supervision by the regime, is another action that can get you detained, tortured, and even killed.

Police arrest a Falun Gong protester on Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Oct. 1, 2000. (AP Photo/Chien-min Chung)
Police arrest a Falun Gong demonstrator on Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Oct. 1, 2000. (AP Photo/Chien-min Chung)

For example, for almost twenty years, millions of people have been fired, expelled, jailed, tortured, or killed simply for practicing Falun Dafa, just for taking up a peaceful meditation practice in which “assimilation to the highest qualities of the universe—truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance— is the foundation of the practice,” according to the falundafa.org website.

And hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims are being held in concentration camps without charges.

Underground Christian churches in China are perceived as threats if they become too large, too political, or invite foreign guests. Raids of churches are common, resulting in arrests and detainments of whole congregations, according to Open Doors USA, a nonprofit that supports persecuted believers in more than 60 countries.

If that isn’t horrific enough, Falun Gong practitioners, Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and underground Christians have been subjected to medical testing followed by having their organs forcibly removed by doctors in government hospitals. Significant evidence of on-demand transplants and data falsification exists, plus the organ donation system throughout China was set up in less than two years, with a significant jump in “organ donation” from 23 percent in 2013 to 80 percent in 2014, according to MarketWatch.

‘Tank Man’ photographer

The American photographer who shot the iconic image of a man standing in front of tanks at the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 says it’s time for the Chinese government to come clean about the bloody events of 30 years ago.

Jeff Widener was an Associated Press photo editor based in Bangkok when he was called in to help cover a growing student-led pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

The day after the military crushed the protests on June 3-4, Widener took the shot of an unknown man holding shopping bags facing a row of tanks. The photo of “tank man” became one of the most famous images of defiance of the 20th century.

In an interview, Widener said he doesn’t understand why China’s leaders won’t admit to errors made and reveal the truth behind the crackdown.

“The United States and European countries have made mistakes throughout history and they’ve reconciled those problems,” Widener told The Associated Press.

“I think it’s time for China to move forward and just come clean on what happened, report to the family members what happened to their loved ones so that they can put this to rest,” he said. “I think that’s the right, decent thing to do.”

Read more on the Tiananmen Square Massacre

Includes reporting by The Associated Press

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