China’s crackdown on Tiananmen Memorial has gone beyond the firewall

The 24-hour vigil began just after 8 a.m. EDT on June 3 — almost on schedule, and without any major disruptions.

The event, hosted by Zoom and broadcast live on other platforms such as YouTube, was organized by Chinese activists to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre, Beijing’s bloody crackdown on a student-led pro-democracy movement that took place on June 4, 1989.

The reality of its possibility was not certain: Organizers were worried they would see a repeat last year, when Zoom, the California video conferencing company, closed three Tiananmen-related events, including theirs, following a request from the Chinese government. . The company even temporarily suspended the accounts of the coordinators, despite the fact that all of them were outside mainland China and four of them were in the United States.

Zoom’s actions led to an investigation and lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice in December. “We strive to limit actions taken to only those necessary to comply with local laws. Zoom in a . wrote statement It was posted on his website, where he admitted that he had “failed”.

It was one of the most extreme examples of how far Western tech companies will go to comply with China’s strict controls over online content.

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This kind of self-censorship is the norm for Chinese tech companies, which – unlike US companies that are protected by rules like Section 230—responsible for user content under Chinese law.

Every year, a few days before sensitive dates such as the anniversary of the 1989 campaign, the Chinese Internet – already tightly censored – becomes more shut down than usual. Certain words are blocked on different platforms. most used Emoji, like a candle, start to disappear Emoji keyboards. Usernames cannot be changed on different platforms. And speech that may be borderline acceptable during other times of the year may result in a visit from State Security.

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

This is accompanied by crackdowns in the real world, with Increased security in Tiananmen Square in Beijing and other sites deemed sensitive by the government, while critics of the system are sent Forced VacationsAnd the Explicitly detained or imprisoned.

This year, that repression will extend even further. After a new pass Hong Kong National Security Law severely restricts speechAlthough months of protestsRemembrance events there and in neighboring Macau are officially banned. (last year 24 people have been charged For ignoring similar bans, including one of the movement’s most prominent leaders, Democratic activist Joshua Wong, who remains in prison and was recently sentenced to another 10 months in prison.

Covid is also playing its part: a major public event planned in Taiwan, for example, has also been called off due to a strict lockdown after a new wave of covid-19 infections.

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