Zoom admitted suspending the accounts of three Chinese human rights activists after they held an online meeting to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
On May 31st, a U.S. non profit group, Humanitarian China used Zoom to host a forum about Beijing’s pro-democracy demonstrations 31 years ago. The South China Morning Post said participants dialed in from China to listen to the testimonies of a number of people tied to the protests of June 4th.
However, Zhou Fensuo, the president of the non-profit and a US-based human rights activist, soon discovered that Zoom disabled the forum. According to NPR, Humanitarian China‘s Zoom account had been shut down with failure to “comply with local laws” on June 7th.
The Guardian reported suspensions similar to Humanitarian China also happened to Hong Kong politician, Lee Cheuk Yan, and Wang Dan, a student leader during the Tiananmen protests.
Following media reports, Zoom confirmed that they suspended the three activists’ accounts because China insisted their activities to be illicit. In a blog post uploaded on Thursday, Zoom stated, “In May and early June, we were notified by the Chinese government about four large, public June 4th commemoration meetings on Zoom that were being publicized on social media, including meeting details. The Chinese government informed us that this activity is illegal in China and demanded that Zoom terminate the meetings and host accounts.”
Zhou Fengsuo, who was himself a student leader at the Tiananmen protests, told the South China Morning Post, “The event marked the first time so many high-profile figures with direct ties to the 1989 pro-democracy movement had come together in one space.”
Zhou continued, “I’m very angry that even in this country, in the United States…we have to be prepared for this kind of censorship.”
Lee Cheuk Yan, who organizes a yearly Tiananmen vigil also shared how he thought Zoom’s response “shameful”. Lee condemned Zoom to have “kneeled before the Communist Party.”
The Hong Kong-based campaigner told The Guardian, “My purpose on opening Zoom is to reach out to mainland Chinese, breaking the censorship of the Chinese Communist party. With this policy it defeats my original purpose.” As of now, Lee closed his account and has requested a refund.
Wang Dan, also planned to host a Zoom event on June 3rd to commemorate the June 4th Tiananmen crackdown. However, distraught after his account was shut down, Dan stressed, “The Chinese communist party is actively attacking democracy around the world. They have already started to intervene in the social system and way of life in the US. The whole world should be on alert.”
The US-based teleconference company soon clarified, “We did not provide any user information or meeting content to the Chinese government. We do not have a backdoor that allows someone to enter a meeting without being visible.”
It also claimed that it will no longer “allow requests from the Chinese government to impact anyone outside of mainland China.”
However, Zoom’s statement raised eyebrows of many users around the world. As the New York Times pointed out, Zoom put itself in a “difficult place between the principles of free speech and the power of China’s huge censorship machine.”
US lawmakers also shed light upon this issue by saying Zoom caved in to Chinese pressure. On Friday, a bipartisan group of senators, including Marco Rubio, (R-FL) and Ed Markey, (D-MA), sent a letter to Zoom asking which Chinese laws mandated the suspension of these human rights activists, according to NPR.
The senators wrote, “Your company has admitted that it did so at the request of the Chinese government to comply with the laws of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), because some of the participants resided inside the PRC.” The senators dubbed Zoom’s suspensions “deeply concerning” and underlined, “Zoom’s millions of daily users across the world who support and demand basic freedoms deserve answers.”
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