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China frees artist held for Tiananmen anniversary

BEIJING -- Soldier-turned-artist Chen Guang was released Saturday, more than a month after he was detained ahead of the 25th anniversary of the military crackdown on China's pro-democracy protests, his friend said.

Chen was among a dozen or so people detained by the government bent on preventing any commemoration of the bloody suppression that took place at Tiananmen Square on June 3-4, 1989.

Beijing does not allow public discussions of the event and even discourages private conversations about it. The government also has tried to deter foreign media from covering the anniversary with threats of unspecified consequences.

Moves to control activists were particularly harsh this year, as more people than in previous years were detained, put under house arrest or forced to leave their cities of residence weeks before the anniversary.

Most have been released since June 4, although the prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang got formally arrested Friday on suspicion of “creating a disturbance” and “illegally obtaining personal information.” Pu was taken away after he attended a private commemoration.

Chen witnessed the crackdown as a military soldier in 1989 and later became a dissident artist.

His detention is believed to be connected to a private art performance, where he whitewashed over walls of painted year numbers from 1989 on.

“(This performance is about) what has happened to us, to me, to society,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press a week before Chinese public security officers detained him and seized several of his paintings. “It is meant to be a reflection of why we have not made a correct and fair assessment of what happened 25 years ago.”

Chen's friend Melanie Wang said he had been freed, although he could not be immediately reached Saturday, and calls to the Tongzhou Detention Center where he was held were unanswered.

But his friends shared a photo of Chen — smiling and in a V-necked T-shirt — walking out of the detention center on social media.

Another artist, Guo Jian, also was taken into police custody before the anniversary and after a profile of him appeared in the Financial Times newspaper. Guo is expected to be repatriated to Australia, where he is a citizen.

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