Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What Tiananmen Square? What Happened There 20 Years Ago Is News To Many In China

The organization Reporters Without Borders says that 20 years later, it is still impossible for the Chinese media to refer freely to the ruthless suppression of China’s pro-democracy movement in June 1989. References to the demonstrations that took place throughout China for several weeks and the deaths of hundreds of students and workers at the hands of the army on June 4, 1989 are still strictly censored in the media and on the Internet in China. The information blackout has been enforced so effectively for 20 years that most young Chinese are completely unaware of this major event.
When Chinese Internet users search for “4 June” in the photos section of Baidu, the country’s most popular search engine, they get this message: “The search does not comply with laws, regulations and policies.” The same search in the video section elicits this message: “Sorry, no video corresponds to your search.” If you do an ordinary Internet search for “4 June” with Baidu, you just get official Chinese statements about the “events of 4 June.”
The Chinese army’s brutal crackdown on the student revolt in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square ended contemporary China’s most important pro-democracy movement. A free press was one of the main demands of the protesters as well as many journalists and journalism professors. Some are still paying the price in terms of administrative punishments, constant police surveillance or forced exile.
Several journalists, including Shi Tao, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sending an e-mail about the Tiananmen Square anniversary in 2004, are still in prison for referring to the massacre. Free expression activist Liu Xiaobo, one of the leading figures of the 1989 movement, was recently re-arrested. Cyber-dissident Huang Qi, who has long campaigned for the June 1989 victims to be recognised, has been held without trial in Chengdu since June 2008 and is now seriously ill.
The censorship imposed after the “Beijing Spring” has never been relaxed. The Propaganda Department and the political police have established a system of extremely strict censorship. Self-censorship and the ignorance of the youngest generation of journalists do the rest. Why are so many resources spent on continuing to cover up a 20-year-old event when China has evolved in so many ways since 1989? “Because the Chinese leaders know they have blood on their hands,” says Renee Xia of Chinese Human Rights Defenders. “They fear that if the truth comes to light, the government will be under pressure to bring those responsible for this crime to justice.”
These days, the censors are concentrating their efforts on the Internet. Reporters Without Borders recently conducted tests that confirm the level of online censorship.


Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fukagawa/111298850/

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