Tiananmen’s anniversary crackdowns on China go far beyond the firewall

The 24-hour vigil began immediately after 8 a.m. Eastern Time on June 3 – more or less flat, and without any major interruptions.

The event, hosted on Zoom and broadcast live on other platforms such as YouTube, was set in motion by Chinese activists to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Beijing’s bloody commitment to a pro-democracy movement led by students which took place on June 4, 1989.

The fact that it could be done was uncertain: organizers were worried about seeing a repeat last year, when Zoom, the California-based video conferencing company, closed three Tiananmen-related events, including its own, following a lawsuit. by the Chinese government. . The company also temporarily suspended the coordinators ’accounts, despite the fact that all of them were located outside of mainland China and four of them were in the United States.

Zoom’s actions led to an investigation and a lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice in December. “We strive to limit the actions taken only to those necessary to comply with local laws.” Our response should not have an impact on users outside of mainland China, ”Zoom wrote in the statement published on its website, in which it admitted that “it did not happen.”

It has been one of the most extreme examples of the extent to which Western technology companies are going to abide by China’s strict controls on online content.

A suppression suite

This type of self-censorship is standard for Chinese technology companies, which – unlike American companies protected by rules such as Section 230– They are held responsible for the content of users by Chinese law.

Every year, a few days before sensitive dates such as the anniversary of the 1989 crackdown, the Chinese internet – which is already closely monitored – becomes even more closed than normal. Some words are censored on various platforms. Commonly used emoji, like the candle, begin to disappear da e emoji keyboards. Usernames on different platforms cannot be changed. And speech that may have been unacceptable during other times of the year may result in a visit from state security.

In 2020, Zoom closed three events related to Tiananmen following a request from the Chinese government – despite the fact that they were all located outside of mainland China. In December the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the company.

This is accompanied by real-world repression, with increased security in Tiananmen Square in Beijing and other places that the government deems sensitive, while vocal criticisms of the regime are sent out forced holidays, detained, or imprisoned right.

This year, such a suppression extends even further. After the passage of a new one national security law in Hong Kong which severely limits speech-despite the months of protests– Commemorative events here and in nearby Macau have been officially banned. (Last year 24 people were charged for ignoring a similar ban, including one of the movement’s most important leaders, democracy activist Joshua Wong, who is still in prison and has recently been sentenced to another 10 months.

Covid also plays its part: a major public event planned in Taiwan has also been canceled, for example, due to a tight block following a new wave of covid-19 infections.

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