BEIJING (Reuters) - China deported a well-known Chinese-born Australian artist on Monday after he was detained following his comments on the 25th anniversary of the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Guo Jian, 52, a former Chinese soldier, was detained last month after an interview with the Financial Times regarding his experiences as a protester during the army's violent dispersal of the demonstrators on June 4, 1989.
His detention was seen as part of a wider effort by authorities to stifle criticism of the government and remembrance of those who died in connection with the events 25 years ago.
Melanie Wang, a friend of Guo's, told reporters at Beijing airport that he had been put on an Air China flight to Sydney.
"I'll be taking off immediately. Thank you, all of you," Guo said in a telephone call to Wang, which she recorded and played to journalists at the airport.
China's foreign ministry has said that Guo had been detained on visa fraud charges.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that authorities had smashed one of Guo's works at his Beijing studio, a large diorama of Tiananmen Square that he had at one point last month covered in raw minced pork.
Guo's girlfriend Yang Fangfang said that Guo had been able to return to his Beijing studio briefly to pack up some of his old paintings, but that his Tiananmen-related pieces had been destroyed.
For the ruling Communist Party, the 1989 demonstrations that clogged Tiananmen Square in Beijing and spread to other cities remain taboo.
The anniversary of the date on which troops shot their way into central Beijing has never been publicly marked in mainland China, though every year there are commemorations in Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The government has never released a death toll for the crackdown, but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.
This year's anniversary was marked by the detention of at least 66 rights activists, according to rights group Amnesty International, increased security in Beijing, and tighter controls on the Internet.
(Reporting by Joseph Campbell; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)