Every March, for the past 20 years, the Tiananmen Mothers victims group has penned a public letter to China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), in a bid to reopen public debate on the bloodshed that ended weeks of protest on Tiananmen Square in 1989.

At the same time, high-ranking leaders, often pressed by foreign journalists, have repeated their view that the ruling Chinese Communist Party's verdict of "political turmoil" is accurate, and that the debate is closed.

This year, no letter has been written, according to retired university professor Ding Zilin, whose 17-year-old son Jiang Jielan was killed when People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops entered the capital in tanks, raking bystanders and buildings alike with automatic weapons fire.

"We decided that this year, we won't be writing anything," said Ding, who has campaigned tirelessly through the group she founded for official recognition of the innocent lives that were lost. "We won't be sending an open letter."

No reply from government

Previous letters have called on the NPC to overturn the official verdict of "counterrevolutionary rebellion" passed on the student-led pro-democracy movement, to compensate victims' families, and to publish official documents from the time, including full details of deaths and injuries.

"We have been writing these letters year in, year out, for the past 20 years, but we have never had any kind of reply, not a single word," Ding told RFA.

"Their only response has been police surveillance and house arrest."

She said many of the group's members were already under surveillance by the time the NPC opened on March 5.

"We are all being watched," Ding said, adding that while there is no obvious police presence near her apartment, the police always seem to know exactly what she and her husband have planned.

Fellow Tiananmen Mothers activist Zhang Xianling, who lost her 19-year-old son during the crackdown, said she had been asked by the authorities not to give media interviews during the NPC annual session, but had refused to comply.

"This year, I told them that I'd give interviews to anyone who called, or who showed up here," Zhang said. "They said that in that case they would have to post a guard."

"On Feb. 28, two police vehicles appeared in the courtyard manned by police, and two private security guards were stationed at the entrance to the lift downstairs to stop journalists," she said.

"I can see my friends and relatives, but I can't see journalists, nor any members of the Tiananmen Mothers," said Zhang, who recently hit out at foreign governments for not making public confidential diplomatic documents from embassies at the time of the crackdown.

More here: After Two Decades of Writing to China's Parliament, Tiananmen Mothers Stay Silent