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China cracks down on Twitter, YouTube

Twenty years after military tanks rolled down Beijing’s main avenue to the Tiananmen Square to crack down on pro-democracy student protesters, China is still muzzling public information and debate about the event. Reshma Patil reports.

world Updated: Jun 04, 2009 02:14 IST
Reshma Patil

Twenty years after military tanks rolled down Beijing’s main avenue to the Tiananmen Square to crack down on pro-democracy student protesters, China is still muzzling public information and debate about the event.

The partial internet closure began ahead of the twentieth anniversary of the crackdown, as Communist Party authorities turned the world’s largest square in the city-centre into a fortress guarded by police both in uniform and plain clothes.

Dissidents were temporarily escorted out of Beijing or forced into house arrest. Professors, parents and college
authorities nudged students to stay at home on Thursday.

But 20 years since June 3-4 1989, the authorities are more nervous of dissent spreading through technology rather than at the vast Tiananmen Square.

Since Tuesday, the social-networking site Twitter became inaccessible. Yahoo’s photo site Flickr, Microsoft’s latest search engine Bing, several Chinese blogs and websites faced the Great Firewall. Related reports by foreign television channels were sporadically blacked out. Video site YouTube is inaccessible since March.

This year, the 316 million Chinese who form the world’s largest online community include masses of restless young graduates whose job prospects sank with China’s export-driven economy.

Beijing monitors the voice of Chinese netizens who debate corruption, crime and the economic crisis on blogs as an indicator of public opinion and brewing dissent.

“A really intensified clampdown on quasi-public discussion of awareness of this event,” Xiao Qiang, director of The Berkeley China Internet Project at the University of California-Berkeley told AP. “It’s a discussion about where China is now and where China can go from here. So authorities are making a major crackdown to block user-generated sites such as Twitter and show there is no right to public discussion.’’

Government-run media is silent about the anniversary. Tiananmen Square is off limits for foreign media.

“Police prevented at least four TV crews from entering the square and harassed a reporter who interviewed mothers of the victims,” said a latest statement from the Foreign Correspondents Club of China. The club said it had received reports of sources coming under ‘heavy surveillance’, and students being interrogated after media interviews. Millions of Chinese students still have no information about what happened on the night of June 3-4 1989.