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Wang Dan, Student Leader of Democracy Movement, Reported Arrested in Beijing

Times Staff Writer

Chinese authorities have arrested student leader Wang Dan, who heads a most-wanted list of organizers in the crushed pro-democracy movement, reliable Chinese sources said Friday, but the government has not announced or confirmed the arrest apparently as part of a new policy to downplay the extent of its crackdown on the movement’s leaders and participants.

Since the violent June 3-4 army assault on demonstrators ordered by Communist Party hard-liners loyal to China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, Wang apparently had used an underground student network to elude a nationwide police dragnet. Fellow student leader Wuer Kaixi used the same “underground railroad” to escape the country through Hong Kong late last month.

But student sources said Wang had been turned back at the border last weekend and returned to Beijing, where he was arrested Thursday, several days after giving an interview to a Taiwanese journalist, who also is now in custody.

Beijing’s municipal state security bureau, the rough equivalent of the FBI, confirmed the arrest of Peter T.P. Huang, a reporter from the Taiwan-based Independence Evening Post, on Thursday. It said the reporter was detained Monday and is now “under interrogation” for allegedly violating martial-law regulations barring news reporters from Beijing University and for making “secret contacts with an illegal organization leader who is wanted by the police.”

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The announcement by a bureau spokesman indicated that Wang may still be on the loose, adding that Huang “is suspected of assisting the wanted criminal to flee China.”

Arrested in Beijing

But a source with ties to the security bureau said that Wang, who headed the outlawed Beijing Autonomous Students Union along with Wuer, was taken into custody in a Beijing suburb several days after the interview. Wang’s arrest also was reported Friday by United Press International.

Diplomatic sources and other Western analysts said they would not be surprised if Wang’s arrest is not announced for days, weeks or ever, even though such a confirmation would testify to the efficiency of intelligence and security forces.

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In the days after the crackdown, in which the government said 300 people died and Western military experts say at least 1,000 civilians were killed, state-run television showed scores of “hooligans” and “counterrevolutionary rebels” in handcuffs, obviously beaten and being hauled before martial-law tribunals. The arrests, and 27 announced executions, have brought protests from around the world.

Officially, the government has confirmed 2,500 detentions and arrests, but diplomats and other sources said the true figure could go as high as 10,000 or more. Independent sources have told of journalists, artists and teachers also being rounded up for questioning in the aftermath of the initial crackdown.

Graphic accounts of the nationwide sweep by security forces were published and aired worldwide, and they fueled the harsh international criticism of China’s hard-line leadership, which has since shifted its propaganda line.

No such accounts have appeared in the past 10 days, and Huang’s arrest is virtually the only one that the government has officially confirmed since the leadership altered its strategy.

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“Clearly, the party was worried about its image,” said one Asian diplomat. “They reasoned they would get a lot more international mileage out of stressing the distinction they’re now making between the leaders of the movement and mere participants, who they have said will not be prosecuted, than by emphasizing the iron fist.”

There was little doubt among independent observers, though, that Wang’s arrest was high on the party leadership’s list of priorities after the crackdown.

‘Salon’ for Intellectuals

In a 25,000-word report published by the party Thursday, Wang, 20, was linked closely with prominent Chinese dissident Fang Lizhi, who has taken refuge in the U.S. Embassy here since the crackdown.

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Wang presided over Beijing’s “Democratic Salon,” a forum for progressive and pro-democracy intellectuals on the Beijing University campus, where Fang and others often spoke on ways to reform China’s Communist Party, the report stated.

During the height of the student-led pro-democracy movement, which brought hundreds of thousands of Beijing residents into the streets in anti-government protests, Wang delivered a speech entitled, “The last battle between brightness and darkness.” In it, he charged that China’s hard-line Premier Li Peng represented “retrogression,” adding that the student movement stood for “democracy, human rights and social progress.”

Throughout the movement, though, Wang, whose large-frame glasses and small physical stature gave the young history student the image of a classic intellectual, always stressed nonviolence as a basic principle of protest. But his impressive organizational skills, which helped bring a high level of discipline to the students’ ranks, also made him a serious threat to the hard-line party leadership, independent analysts here said.


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