Tiananmen Square Massacre

Honourable senators, that was very touching because we all have memories, some good, some bad, some happy and some sad.

Each year, on this date, I stand up in this special place to remember those who stood up for democracy and were killed. Each year, on this date, I remember the massacre in Tiananmen Square. Each year, on this date, I think of that hot, humid and sticky night when Chinese soldiers forced their way into the square. There was one purpose: to get rid of the students and crush the pro-democracy movement. It was not pretty.

It was a ruthless crackdown on a people who had no defence but their voices. They were voices against a regime that was not prepared to listen; voices that were silenced by gunfire which echoed throughout a Beijing night 24 years ago.

Today, a generation has grown up in China not being allowed to know what really happened in Tiananmen Square, but the Chinese government cannot silence me, cannot threaten me with jail or house arrest. As a foreign correspondent, it was not easy for me to watch people die. It is not easy watching students being crushed by tanks. It is not easy to listen to pain. It is not easy to hear silence. I owe it to them, their families and those who survived that brutal night to speak out.

What was the Chinese government afraid of? “Why, why, why?” I keep asking myself. Tiananmen was more than just one night. In fact, I spent two months in 1989 in the square covering a news story, not even thinking that this was history on the run. I remember an elderly couple telling me to tell the world what was happening. In unison, they yelled out, “We want our voices heard.”

At one point, Beijing felt like a liberated city, with the sight of a million people marching peacefully by Tiananmen, the portrait of Chairman Mao casting a shadow from the Forbidden City over Tiananmen Square. Students were joined by ordinary Beijingers in celebration. They were one voice, but, when martial law was declared, there was the voice of Premier Li Peng. The crackdown had begun.

Today, there was no celebration in Tiananmen. Today, there are dissidents in prison, including 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, a professor and human rights activist sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009. All he did was help to write a charter calling for democratic reforms and guarantees of human rights and freedoms in China. He received the award for “his non- violent struggle for fundamental human rights.”

Sadly, there are thousands like him in Chinese gulags. Today, China may be an economic giant, but it is a human rights lightweight. Somehow, we are supposed to live with both, but, as long as I have a voice, I will not live with the distorted history that it has presented to its own people and the world.

Every year at this time, I just want to cry, but, at the end of the day, there is one lesson and one lesson alone: When you have witnessed history, never let the world forget it. Long live democracy and long live the children and students of China, whose voices were silenced.