China tightens Web controls on anniversary

Reuters, BEIJING

Tue, Jun 05, 2012 - Page 1

China’s censors blocked Internet access to the terms “six four,” “23,” “candle” and “never forget” yesterday, broadening extensive efforts to silence talk about the 23rd anniversary of China’s bloody June 4 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

For the Chinese Communist Party, the 1989 demonstrations that clogged Tiananmen Square in Beijing and spread to other cities remain taboo, all the more so this year as the government prepares for a tricky leadership transition.

Searches for the terms related to the anniversary, such as “six four” for June 4, were blocked on Sina Weibo, the most popular of China’s Twitter-like microblogging platforms. Users encountered a message that said the search results could not be displayed “due to relevant laws, regulations and policies.”

“It’s that day again and once more numerous posts are being deleted,” a Weibo microblogger wrote.

Weibo was not immediately available for comment.

The anniversary of the date on which troops shot their way into central Beijing in 1989 has never been publicly marked in China.

The Chinese government has never released a death toll of the crackdown, but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.

US Department of State deputy spokesman Mark Toner urged the Chinese government on Sunday “to provide a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing.”

Microbloggers denounced the overzealous rash of censorship, complaining that their posts had been “harmonized” — a euphemism for censorship — within minutes.

Censors also prevented microbloggers from changing their display photos in an apparent attempt to prevent them from posting any photo commemorating the anniversary.

Yet some people did manage to beat the censors, and a few pictures of the 1989 protests did find their way onto the Web.

“There can be no social stability if people cannot speak out and must live in terror of punishment,” a microblogger commented on one of the photographs.

Yao Jianfu (姚監復), author of a new book of interviews with Chen Xitong (陳希同) the Beijing mayor at the time of the crackdown, said that Chen had said “this was a tragedy that should have been averted, but wasn’t.”

“I never foresaw there would be shooting, because Mao Zedong (毛澤東) said that ordinary people should not be shot at and suppressing student protests comes to no good,” Yao said.

The government has restricted the movements of dozens of dissidents, former prisoners and petitioners during the anniversary period and warned them against speaking to journalists or organizing activities, Wang Songlian (汪松鐮) of Hong Kong-based rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders said.

A coalition of lawyers and rights activists began a one-day fast in their homes yesterday to commemorate the anniversary, said Liu Weiguo (劉衛國), a Shandong-based lawyer who represented Chen Kegui (陳克貴) before being intimidated by Chinese authorities.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong, said organizers, who had erected a replica of the goddess of democracy that was built in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Chinese tourists stopped on Tiananmen Square shook their heads and appeared mystified when asked about the anniversary. There were no obvious signs of extra security on the already well-guarded square.

However, a trinket vendor said he was well aware what day it was.

“Do foreigners also know about June 4?” he asked a reporter in a hushed tone, looking around to make sure nobody heard him. “I think it is important we remember, but nobody will talk about it now.”