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China websites mark Tiananmen anniversary Sites close for ‘Chinese Internet Maintenance Day’ in subtle attack on state censorship
Chinese internet users are rebelling against an internet crackdown brought in on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Twenty years after the pro-democracy protests that claimed the lives of hundreds – or even thousands – of unarmed civilians in Beijing, a number of websites appear to be making a veiled protest at state censorship by referring to the date sarcastically as ‘Chinese Internet Maintenance Day’.
Earlier this week the government blocked access to a number of popular western websites, in what was widely seen as way of controlling access to information about the events at Tiananmen Square. Among the sites that were screened out were photo-sharing website Flickr, Microsoft’s Hotmail email service and the popular online messaging site Twitter.
A number of other sites appear to have gone down over recent days, however, in a move that may be part of an ad hoc anniversary protest online.
According to Chinese media blog Danwei, the music-sharing service VeryCD has been taken down, as well as Fanfou, a local version of Twitter. But rather than simply fail to load, which would be typical for websites blocked by the firewall, many of the sites are now carrying messages saying that they are closed for maintenance.
It is not clear whether any of the sites took down their services as a result of government pressure: most have had previous trouble with the authorities in Beijing, and reports suggest that many sites were told that they would face serious consequences if they published anything relating to the events of 4 June 1989.
But it was also suggested that the phrasing used by some of the websites indicates a subtle attack on the government.
While deliberate government action cannot be ruled out, more than 300 Chinese sites appear to have posted increasingly blasé maintenance messages on the anniversary.
‘The Fanfou server is undergoing technical maintenance. Service is expected to resume before dawn on 6 June,’ said one message. On dictionary website WordKu.com, its owners said they had taken the site down for Chinese Internet Maintenance Day.
Blog hosting service Bullog.org, meanwhile, says it has gone ‘on strike’ for the day, and Wuqing.org carried a message saying: ‘I, too, am under maintenance!’
Internet users in China often deploy subtle methods to criticise the government without falling foul of the law.
Among the favoured techniques is repurposing internet slang to make fun of leading political figures or mock their policies.
In the past the term ‘grass mud horse’ – a lewd pun intended as a jab at the censorship of bad language – gained currency among China’s internet-savvy crowd. A string of empty government slogans, meanwhile, was parodied in a popular meme known as ‘the river crab wears three watches’.
Internet crackdown blocks ‘young generation’ as leading dissident is detained in Beijing
The move came amid increasing pressure on dissidents, in a reflection of the authorities’ anxiety ahead of the sensitive date. Hundreds died as the army forced its way through Beijing to clear away demonstrators from the capital’s political heart in June 1989, but the issue is taboo on the mainland.
‘Twitter is a tool which can put all the sensitive things and sensitive guys together, very quickly. That’s the very thing that the Chinese government doesn’t want to see in China,’ said one blogger, Michael Anti, who had predicted Twitter would not be allowed for long.
‘They needed time to figure out what it is and whether it needed to be controlled.’
He added: ‘I don’t know whether they will reopen Twitter after 4 June. I hope they will, for Twitter is a crucial icon for the new internet era on which many innovations emerge. China can’t block their young generation from the future.’
While most Chinese internet users rely on domestic services, which are heavily monitored and controlled, Twitter had become hugely popular among an urban elite. They used the site to share information on sensitive issues in recent months, such as the fire at the Chinese state television complex.
But while people could not access the site this evening, some users were still able to tweet, sending their complaints about the ban.
‘We netizens were beaten by a ‘combination blow’. So many famous websites are not accessible now … This time, it is huge,’ wrote user williamlong.
Reuters reported that the email service Hotmail was also blocked across the mainland, while some internet users said they were unable to access Microsoft’s Windows Live.
Internet monitors have also shut down message boards on more than 6,000 websites affiliated with colleges and universities, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.
In a statement distributed by the same organisation, the exiled former student leader Chai Ling appealed for the release of political prisoners, an independent investigation into the events and permission for former student leaders to return home.
‘The current generation of leaders who bear no responsibility should have the courage to overturn the verdicts [on the protests],’ said Chai, who now lives in the US and has not commented on the issue for several years.
‘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,’ spokesman Qin Gang said when asked about the issue at the Foreign Ministry’s regular news conference. The Chinese authorities deemed the protests counterrevolutionary riots.
In Taizhou, Zhejiang, officials have detained a former prisoner who last week co-signed an open letter to the government complaining about economic discrimination against dissidents, according to US-based group Human Rights in China.
Wu Gaoxing and four other men who were jailed for supporting the 1989 pro-democracy protests said former prisoners were struggling to survive because they could not find steady jobs and are deprived of medical benefits and pensions.
Calls to Taizhou’s state security bureau rang unanswered.
Another signatory, Mao Guoliang, told the Associated Press: ‘I expect he’s being held under some form of house arrest, but I don’t know where.’
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