Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, an event in which hundreds of innocent protestors, demonstrating for political reform and greater individual freedom, were slaughtered.
The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre will be marked today across the world, with particularly notable events attracting thousands onto the streets in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and scores of articles and recollections being published in papers and online.
But in China, there will be no official commemoration, recognition, or even acknowledgement of the anniversary. Indeed, according to Amnesty International, scores of journalists, lawyers, and activists, have been detained, questioned, or gone missing in the preceding weeks, and there is a huge security presence on the streets, to ensure there is no repeat today.
This security presence is also abundantly in evidence online, where the infamous Chinese firewall, which has long blocked access to any references to the events of 3-4th June 1989 from Chinese users, has gone into overdrive.
The firewall already permanently blocks a vast array of sites including Facebook and Twitter, but in the run up to the anniversary, all of Google's services have been blocked, from the search engine and Gmail facilities, through to the more innocuous services such as Google calendar, Google images, and Google translate. Even the Google Chrome homepage is not currently functioning. The blanket ban extends across all country-specific services, including Google Hong Kong, China's own version of the service.
A report from internet activist group Greatfire which monitor's the Chinese firewall, the block has been in place for four days now. Previous blocks to Google services in China have only lasted for around 12 hours, leading to mounting speculation that this could be a more permanent censorship of the services.
Only time will tell, but given the significance of the anniversary, it seems more likely that the Chinese authorities are merely playing it safe by extending the usual block.
It might appear that Google are a blameless victim in this censorship, but the reality is that there are steps they could take to circumvent this block. At present they are choosing not to do this, and despite very publicly leaving China back in 2009 so that they didn't have to censor themselves, currently seem to be quite happy to allow the Chinese authorities to do it for them.
They are not the only high profile global internet company to appear to be in collusion with Chinese censorship. LinkedIn announced back in February that it would be setting up operations in China, and in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Chief Executive Jeff Weiner said
"we are strongly in support of freedom of expression and we are opposed to censorship... [but] that's going to be necessary for us to achieve the kind of scale that we'd like to be able to deliver to our membership."
And in the interests of LinkedIn's growth in the region, users in China and Hong Kong who posted references to Tiananmen have been receiving messages informing them that their posts will not be available to users in China, but will be to the rest of the world. This censorship only seems to have come into place in the past day or so, but sets a worrying precedent for LinkedIn users in China moving forwards.
There are equally question marks about the Wall Street Journal itself, which ran a headline story about Tiananmen today. But their website has been blocked in China since 2nd June, which has begged the question from some as to whether they knew it in advance?
The internet is a bastion of free speech an individual liberty; rights which those who lost their lives in Tiananmen Square twenty-five years ago held in such high regard. It has the power to offer information, hope, and support to people across the globe, and is particularly powerful in countries with oppressive, authoritarian regimes, such as the Communist regime in China.
The right to freedom of speech is a universal one, and one which many people have laid down their lives for, in Tiananmen Square and elsewhere. In China, where tourists flock to places like Taiwan to experience a democratic election, the appetite for such freedoms is no less now than it was twenty-five years ago. It is the economic power of the ruling elite, which is preventing them for fighting for it today.
Companies such as Google have always prided themselves on standing up for online freedom and openness. To be true to these ideals, it is vital that they do not bow to pressure from such regimes in search of a fast buck, and continue to do everything in their power to ensure that all content is available to all users, regardless of where they live.Suggest a correction