China Begins Internet ‘Blackout’ Ahead of Tiananmen Anniversary

Daily News Article   —   Posted on June 3, 2009

Note:  This article is from the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

(by Peter Foster, Telegraph.co.uk) BEIJING — China has begun imposing an information blackout ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, blocking access to popular networking websites such as Twitter and BBC television reports inside China.

The measures came as the authorities tried to close all avenues of dissent ahead of Thursday’s anniversary, placing prominent critics under house arrest and banning newspaper from making any mention of the pro-democracy protests.

The co-ordinated internet “takedown” occurred at 5pm local time (10am GMT) on Tuesday as a broad range of websites suddenly became unavailable to Chinese internet users.

Among the blocked sites was the blogging portal MSNSpaces, the Hotmail email service, Yahoo’s photo-sharing site Flickr.com and Microsoft’s new search engine Bing.com.

However, in a sign of how it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Chinese to control the internet, Twitter users found alternative outlets in rival providers to evade the censors.

Foreign newspaper and television channels were also subject to censorship as the highly sensitive anniversary approached.

Viewers of the BBC’s world channels in Beijing found their screens turning black whenever reports on the anniversary were being aired and four foreign television crews attempting to film in Tiananmen Square reported being stopped by police.

Print publications were also affected, with many subscribers to The Economist magazine receiving their weekly copies with the Tiananmen-related pages ripped out. Readers of the Financial Times and South China Morning post also reported missing pages.

Over the last 20 years China’s ruling Communist Party has refused to apologise for the deaths of hundreds, and possibly thousands, of protesters who were shot or crushed by tanks on the night of June 3-4, 1989.

Ignoring calls at home and abroad to pardon jailed demonstrators and “reassess” the events at Tiananmen, party officials have unwaveringly maintained the line that the protests were “counter-revolutionary riots” that were suppressed for the good of the country.

Qin Gang, foreign ministry spokesman, said yesterday: “The party and the government long ago reached a conclusion about the political incident that took place at the end of the 1980s and related issues.”

The tightening of censorship ahead of Thursday’s anniversary drew criticism from civil rights groups, including the press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders which issued a report condemning the lack of progress on media freedoms in China.

Renee Xia, of the banned Chinese Human Rights Defenders group, said the party continued to invest huge resources in keeping the Tiananmen massacre out of the public consciousness.

“Why? Because the Chinese leaders know they have blood on their hands. They fear that if the truth comes to light, the government will be under pressure to bring those responsible for this crime to justice,” she said.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China said it “deplored” the attempts to block reporting of the Tiananmen anniversary which it claimed went against the spirit of the relaxed reporting regulations that were introduced in the run-up to last year’s Olympic Games in Beijing.

It accused the authorities of preventing at least four television crews from entering Tiananmen Square, harassing a reporter who interviewed the mothers of the victims and interrogating students who had given interviews.

As well media restrictions, the authorities have also silenced several leading dissidents, including Bao Tong, former secretary to Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party leader purged for sympathising with the protesters. He was ordered to leave Beijing by security agents.

In another incident former Tiananmen Square protester who wrote an open letter to China’s leaders complaining that political prisoners were still being refused jobs, pension and medical benefits 20 years after the massacre was also arrested, a human rights group reported.

Wu Gaoxing, a former teacher in his late 60s who was jailed for two years for his role in the protests was picked up in the eastern city of eastern city of Taizhou on Saturday, according to the New York-based group Human Rights in China.

Commemorations to mark the anniversary are being planned around the world, including Hong Kong where a small group of students have said they will stage a 64-hour hunger-strike in commemoration the hunger-striking students of 1989.

In London Amnesty International UK said it was asking members to hold candlelit vigils while three former survivors of the repression laid flowers of commemoration outside the Chinese Embassy.

Information appearing on telegraph.co.uk is the copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited and must not be reproduced in any medium without licence. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from the Telegraph. Visit the website at telegraph.co.uk

Questions

1. List the actions the Chinese government has taken to block information about the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. (see para. 1-4, 6-8, 16-19)

2. How are Twitter users getting around the Chinese government censors?

3. How has the Chinese government reacted to calls for it to pardon jailed demonstrators and “reassess” the events at Tiananmen Square?

4. Why does the banned Chinese Human Rights Defenders group say that the Chinese government is blocking access to all information on Tiananmen Square?

5. What are other countries doing to commemorate the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre?

6. Do you think that the internet and other technology will make a difference in the way the Chinese government can control information its citizens are able to access? Explain your answer.


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Background

Massacre at Tiananmen: June 4, 2009 is the Twentieth anniversary of the crackdown on democracy at Tiananmen Square: (from bobsonwong.com/dfn/focus/china/tian10.htm)

In April 1989, Hu Yaobang, the former reform-minded Communist Party general secretary [of China], died. Hu had been purged from the party leadership in 1987 [for his reform ideas], and Zhao Ziyang replaced him as general secretary.

Hundreds of thousands of students mourned Hu’s death by staging large demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the country’s capital. Led by people like Beijing University student Wang Dan, the students demanded an end to government corruption, greater personal and political freedom, and improved conditions in China’s colleges.

The turning point came in May, when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev visited China. International journalists who came to Beijing to cover the summit beamed to the rest of the world live images of thousands of students occupying Tiananmen Square and going on a hunger strike.

Behind the scenes, Chinese officials argued over what they should do. Moderates such as Zhao Ziyang advocated peaceful dialogue with the students. Hardliners such as Chinese senior leader Deng Xiaoping, who led the country through an economic reform process that limited political change, insisted on using military force to crack down on the demonstrations.

The hardliners eventually prevailed. As demonstrations spread to other cities in May, martial law was declared. On the night of June 3-4, Chinese army troops moved into Tiananmen Square and dispersed crowds, killing and imprisoning thousands. Student demonstration leader Wang Dan was arrested and spent several years in prison before being paroled and exiled to the United States. Human rights groups estimate that hundreds of people detained after protests are still in custody.

The Chinese government continues to refuse to acknowledge any wrongdoing. In the days before the ten-year anniversary, China stopped CNN from broadcasting into Beijing and arrested several dissidents.

Resources

View photos of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 at telegraph.co.uk.

Watch Online: Eyewitness Accounts, Footage From 1989 Square Massacre, at pbs.org.

For further details on Tiananmen Square, go to hrw.org/node/83115.