Fan Baolin, a survivor of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, was imprisoned for 17 years by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). After his release, he was tracked, persecuted, and harassed by members of the regime until he finally managed to escape from China last year.

Thirty-two years after the Tiananmen massacre where the CCP unleashed a fierce crackdown on students protesting against China’s absolutist regime, Fan Baolin spoke to the Associated Press and recounted the ordeal he endured from his arrest in 1999 until last year when he managed to escape the country to seek refuge from the CCP.

Fan, 57, took part in the 1989 demonstrations like so many other young students of his generation, survived the repression, and finally continued his professional activity after graduating as a lawyer, as a member of the party’s security apparatus. But he never gave up his activity as a human rights defender.

In 1999, he was arrested by the CCP for handing over confidential documents on the surveillance of Chinese pro-democracy exiles to activists abroad. 

According to the sentencing report accessed by AP News, he was convicted of “illegally providing state secrets abroad” for faxing security agency documents to a pro-democracy movement group in Los Angeles and “expressing sympathy and support,” according to the sentencing report accessed by AP News. Fan said he had promised to use his position to pass on intelligence reports about the group.

After 17 years in prison, he was released in 2016. He became one of those still being watched by the party a generation after the Tiananmen events in an effort to erase public memory of the protests in the heart of Beijing.

“Once he is blacklisted by the Chinese government, he will be tracked for life,” Fan assures the journalist who interviewed him, ahead of the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre on Friday, June 4. 

He is currently in another Asian country but expressly asked not to be identified while the government considers his asylum request.

The CCP leadership has devised a perverse system to imprison or drive into exile activists who challenge its corrupt foundations and has largely succeeded in ensuring that China’s youth know little about what happened on June 4 in Tiananmen Square. 

As Fan recounted, relatives of those killed in the brutal crackdown are monitored. Before the anniversary, some are detained or forced to stay temporarily indoors to prevent them from doing anything that might draw attention to themselves. 

Public memorials on this subject in China have always been banned, and any historical study material that tells what the events were really like. Vigils used to be held openly in Hong Kong and Macau, Chinese territories with fewer political controls, but authorities banned the events this year.

After being released from prison, Fan lived in his hometown of Xi’an, in western China, under absolute surveillance and restrictions. He mentioned that the police banned him from leaving the city, tracked his cell phone, and listened to his calls constantly to be aware of his movements.

“They searched for my brother and sister,” he said. The authorities wanted “to make my family members persuade me, to control me, not to participate in this kind of thing anymore, not to meet these people anymore.” But to protect his family, Fan avoided telling details about his anti-CCP activities.

Fan also said that when he traveled to other cities during 2017 to visit old friends, the police called every day to inquire about what he was doing and what his movements would be. He also recounted that when he took a short vacation to southwestern Yunnan province in 2018, police detained him and sent him back to Xi’an. Something similar happened to him when in 2019, he tried to visit Beijing on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen protests.

Fan said that such is the CCP’s harassment of him and his loved ones for actions committed in the past, that when he decided to leave China, he did not even inform his family members what he was planning. He discarded his cell phone to avoid the authorities using it to track him, headed for the southern border, and crossed it.

Today in exile, he still fears being watched and monitored by the authorities of the communist regime, which continues to persecute, imprison and murder his detractors both within and outside its borders. 

“I will not return to China,” he said. “This is a road of no return.”