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Zoom disabled US-based Chinese activist’s account over China’s anti-Tiananmen law

China Censorship (Mike MacKenzie/Flickr)
June 13, 2020

Popular video conferencing platform Zoom temporarily disabled the account of a Chinese pro-democracy advocate based in the United States to comply with local laws in China, where speech is highly censored.

While the account has been reactivated as of Wednesday, it was discovered on Sunday to be disabled for the subject matter of the videoconference: the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Discussion of the June 4 massacre is illegal in China and to comply with the law, Zoom barred participants in China from joining the conference. Some estimates say more than 1,000 people died that day, according to the South China Morning Post.

The videoconference took place on May 31 and saw participants from China listen to testimonies of victims of the massacre, including mothers who lost their sons that day and a Beijing resident who was imprisoned for 17 years for participating in it, according to the account holder, Zhou Fengsuo. The event was the first time so many high-profile participants with direct ties to the movement were in one space, Zhou said.

“Just like any global company, we must comply with applicable laws in the jurisdictions where we operate,” a company spokesman said. “When a meeting is held across different countries, the participants within those countries are required to comply with their respective local laws.”

Zhou said his account was reactivated on Wednesday, but Zoom did not tell him why it was after he asked.

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Since the discussion of the massacre is illegal, Zhou said he and the organizers “had to keep it secret.” They only started publicizing it two days before on WeChat, China’s most widely used messaging platform.

They began the conference by playing The Wound of History, a Chinese song written to commemorate the June 4 movement.

In a pre-recorded messaged from Beijing, human rights activist Zhang Xianling, a member of Tiananmen Mothers, a group of moms who lost their sons in the protest, condemned the Chinese government’s bloody crackdown.

“Over the past few decades we have been taking a stand against the government, and we demand that the government disclose the truth about the massacre, and immediately apologize and offer compensation,” she added.

The videoconference also featured testimony from Dong Shengkun, who was imprisoned for 17 years for participating in the Tiananmen Square protest.

“The great democratic and patriotic movement of 31 years ago has already been forgotten by many people,” Dong said. “But we have not forgotten, nor can we, because it carries so, so much weight for us.”

Zhou has been censored by the Chinese government before, including recently having his LinkedIn profile blocked in China. Zhang is also under constant surveillance from Chinese authorities.

Zoom’s popularity dramatically spiked since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year. Its number of active daily users now tops 200 million.

The creators of the videoconferencing platform weren’t able to keep up with the demand, so there have been a number of security issues. The Pentagon had to ban using Zoom after reports surfaced revealing major security issues linked to China.