Thursday, June 4, 2009

Beijing moves into Tiananmen Square massacre lockdown

Michael Sainsbury,
The Australian

CHINA's Communist Party has mobilised every arm of its massive state apparatus to ensure the 20th anniversary of the bloody crackdown on its citizens in Tiananmen Square passes unnoticed.

Authorities censored a host of online services yesterday, launched armed patrols around the centre of Beijing and placed prominent dissidents under arrest.

Thousands of chat rooms and major offshore internet sites such as Hotmail, Twitter and Flickr have been blocked, joining an existing three-month ban on Google's video site, YouTube, which was punished for showing Chinese soldiers beating Tibetan monks.

Foreign journalists have been blocked from interviewing people around the square and had members of their local staff questioned this week, despite promises of freer access for reporters by the Government following last year's Olympic Games.

On the evening of June 3, 1989, China's leadership moved to impose martial law on the centre of Beijing after almost seven weeks of protests begun by students, culminating in the peaceful occupation of Tiananmen Square outside the Forbidden City. Thousands of troops and tanks stormed the city streets and the square, crushing and shooting unarmed citizens.

Since then, the event has been wiped from Chinese history books with most young Chinese having only vague knowledge of the massacre and many happy to dismiss it as history.

"I know it was bad but most people really don't know, and the Government has done plenty of good things since then, " said one 26-year-old Beijinger whose view is typical of the age group.

But the Chinese Government continues its refusal to recognise the event, name and count its victims or conduct any form of inquiry or reconciliation. Its paranoia about the massacre reaches its peak in the weeks ahead of the anniversary each year.

Authorities have been steadily tightening surveillance over China's dissident community ahead of this year's anniversary, with some leading writers under house arrest for months.

The city's stubborn coterie of human rights lawyers have been subject to worse than usual harrassment in the lead-up to the annual June 1 renewal of their licences.

But while the Government and its agencies are obsessing over events of two decades ago, ordinary Chinese people are more concerned over a murder that has become the latest cause celebre.

Deng Yujiao, a waitress from central China's Hubei province, stabbed a senior government official to death after being sexually harassed. The Government has shut down access to the town by reporters and blocked websites discussing the case.

More than 40 lawyers across the country have formed a volunteer group to help Ms Deng, who is being held under house arrest.

Last week, a seminar organised by a law website on self-defence, discussing the Deng case, was aborted after government intervention and the owner of another website with similar intentions was repatriated from Beijing to Shanxi province. More than 26,000 chat groups discussing the murder were shut down by the Government.

China has the world's largest online population, and internet communities have proven increasingly influential in spreading word of everything from student protests to group shopping excursions.

Additional reporting: AP

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