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Rep. Chris Smith, center, is presented in his office with a poem by a group of Chinese dissidents who survived the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 and went on to lead activist organizations. / Oren Dorell, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Adam Chen's life changed in Beijing on June 4, 1989, when he saw friends shot to death in what became known as the Tiananmen Square massacre. Thousands of people died that day, and like others of his generation, Chen has spent years in prison for trying to spread word about the tragedy and continuing his fight for democracy in his country.

"It's been 25 years since the violent crackdown in 1989 on the democracy movement. The Communist Party continues in these efforts and we want to know why," said Chen, who was among five Chinese dissidents who testified about their experiences Friday at a hearing of the human rights subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Activists who testified alongside Chen included Chai Ling, founder of All Girls Allowed, which fights China's one-child policy and forced abortions and sterilizations, and Yang Jianli, president of democracy advocacy group Initiatives for China.

The Chinese crackdown on the Tiananmen Square democracy movement left 500 to 2,600 dead, according to Tiananmen Square, 1989: The Declassified History, published by the George Washington University's National Security Archive. China's official death toll is 246.

Subcommittee Chairman Chris Smith, R-N.J., said China's handling of information about the square can be summed up in a word: "Cover-up"

Smith said that during a visit to Beijing he searched for Tiananmen Square on the Internet and found no mention of the protests, only "pretty pictures" of the expansive and photogenic landmark. And the U.S. response to the crackdown and human rights in China overall has been marked by decades of "missed opportunities," he said.

Smith also faulted presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama for failing to do more to pressure China to improve its human rights record.

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"The Chinese government has treated them barbarically, with systematic torture," he said. "Stop paying them lip service."

Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for Obama's National Security Council, said, "The president's commitment to urging China to uphold its international human rights commitments and guarantee all Chinese citizens the rights of free expression, association, religion and peaceful assembly has been direct, clear, and consistent."

Chen was a sophomore at the Beijing Institute of Meteorology when he joined students and workers in Tiananmen Square to pressure the Communist Party to stick to its pledge to stop monopolizing government politics and China's large state enterprises. He said their demands were a reaction to corruption getting out of hand, but instead of instituting reforms, the government sent in tanks and soldiers, rounding up student leaders and other dissidents.

A few week after the square was cleared, on July 1, 1989, Chen saw a man giving a speech about the massacre at a subway station. Three armed men entered the station, beat the man with the butts of their rifles and dragged him away like a sack of rice, Chen said. In September, the Communist Party committee at his school started investigating student activists and focused on him. Chen was the only student in his class who did not graduate on time, he said.

On the third anniversary of the massacre, Chen said, he was among a group of former students who wanted to commemorate the event and get involved in politics with a newly formed Freedom and Democracy Party. Fifty were arrested. Chen was sentenced to three years in prison. A comrade, Hu Shigen, was sentenced to 20 years. Hu served his sentence and is incarcerated again today, as he was among four people detained on May 3, 2014, for holding a seminar on Tiananmen Square.

Chen said in jail he slept on a concrete bed, was forced to clean toilets and was cuffed with his hands behind his back if he "expressed disagreement with management policies in the jail."

Two years after he was released, Chen was behind bars again, this time for his underground publication of a book about the Tiananmen Square movement. Authorities rounded up nearly all 20,000 copies distributed, fined Chen and jailed him for 40 days, he said.

But Chen was not dissuaded from his life of activism. In 1998 he was detained for two months for organizing farmers from his home district in Inner Mongolia in a tax revolt, and he was detained so many times after that he lost count. He now lives in Beijing and works for an organization that helps families and children of political prisoners.

"I became a frequenter of police stations," Chen said through an interpreter.

Chen said he'll return to Beijing after his meetings in the USA, but he's not sure what kind of reception he'll receive.

"I don't know what will happen to me - I'm going home even if they put me in prison again," he said with an anxious smile. "I've had to fight for 25 years. It needs a lot more people to continue this, so I want to go back. ... Whenever I think about the people who died and people still in prison, for me to spend another year or two in prison is nothing."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Survivor recounts China's Tiananmen Square 'cover-up'

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