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In China, Tiananmen Square massacre heads long list of taboo subjects

Activists wearing masks of China's jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo at a night vigil in Taipei, Taiwan on 4 June 2013, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre
Activists wearing masks of China's jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo at a night vigil in Taipei, Taiwan on 4 June 2013, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre

REUTERS/Steven Chen

UPDATE: Netizens arrested in connection with 4 June anniversary (Reporters Without Borders)

On 4 June 2013, the sombre anniversary of the bloody 1989 crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, Reporters Without Borders reiterates its appeal for the release of journalists, bloggers and campaigners for freedom of expression, in particular those imprisoned for having taken part in, or referred to, the pro-democracy movement. We also call for the Chinese media and Internet users to be allowed to report on all events, including those that scarred May and June 1989.

The press freedom organization calls for an end to wholesale censorship and the abolition of the information control system known popularly as the "Great Firewall".

"China remains one of the most repressive countries in the world towards those who campaign for freedom of information and expression," Reporters Without Borders said.

"Events commemorating the 4 June anniversary in many of the world's capitals are a duty of remembrance and allow tribute to be paid to the victims of the repression, but they also provide an opportunity to publicize what is probably one of Beijing government's greatest taboos.

"The consequences of the lack of information as a result of the censorship and disinformation about the Tiananmen Square massacre imposed by the government for almost 25 years are still felt today. Thanks to the effectiveness of the blackout, the vast majority of young Chinese still know nothing about this episode.

"The Tiananmen Square massacre is far from an isolated incident from a bygone era. The censorship launched after the 'Beijing Spring' has never been relaxed. The authorities regard the daily exercise of disinformation and censorship as an effective method for maintaining their control over the population as well as China's international image, whatever the consequences for the Chinese people. Any news or information regarded as sensitive by the authorities may be censored."

Tens of thousands of people participate in a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong to mark the 24th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Beijing
Tens of thousands of people participate in a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong to mark the 24th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Beijing

REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Censorship regulations are not confined to the media but also affect the university education system. A Chinese law professor, Zhang Xuezhong, recently disclosed on his website that there were seven subjects that the government had banned Chinese university teachers from discussing: universal values, citizens' rights, civil society, judicial independence, freedom of the press, the privileged capitalist class, and past mistakes of the Chinese Communist Party.

To illustrate the censorship from which the Chinese media suffer on a daily basis, Reporters Without Borders has listed the most recent orders issued to journalists and Chinese Internet companies by the various offices responsible for controlling the flow of information and the media:

1. Media organizations must not stress violence on a college campus but should concentrate on the steps taken by party committees and the government to prevent similar incidents in the future - Central Propaganda Committee.

2. Coverage of the international Africa conference in Tokyo is forbidden - State Council Information Bureau.

3. Coverage of the arrival of U.S. military vessels in the Southern Ocean is forbidden.

4. All statements about clashes between police and groups of camphor traders in Dongguan and the tar leakage in Si Hui must follow the information issued by the relevant departments. They must not carry out interviews of their own volition - Guangdong.

5. Information on the public hearings on the rise in taxi fares in Beijing must not be circulated - Beijing Network Office.

6. The report on the Shenzhen coastal power station must be followed to the letter in order to avoid unnecessary tension - Shenzhen Publicity Department.

7. The micro-blogging account of Zhang Xue Zhong is to be blocked - State Council Information Office.

8. Media coverage of the student at the Agricultural University of Huanan found hanged is forbidden - Guangzhou Propaganda Ministry.

9. It is forbidden to mention or comment on the Shenzhen costal power station and related matters, or the relocation of Guangzhou's cemetery for those who resisted the Japanese.

10. It is forbidden to talk about Party Provincial Bureau deputy director Yu Laishan's meal or his 170,000 yuan dinner - Guangdong Department of Propaganda.

11. Absolutely all posts about Xu Zhiyong must be suppressed, without exception - Central Department of Propaganda.

12. It is forbidden to publish any report or communiqué about the press conference or other activities organized by the Gu Chu military corps - Council of State's Bureau of Information.

13. It is forbidden to comment on the attack on government officials by residents of the village of Dongxia, in Hui'an district - Fujian Department of Propaganda.

14. "Internet clean-up" operations will continue until June. The level at which key subjects are handled will be raised by one level and the precision of website registering will be stepped up. These are priorities.

Reporters Without Borders will take part in the events that the Chinese pro-democracy movement is organizing in Paris to mark the anniversary. A demonstration in the city centre will be followed by the screening of two films that have not previously been seen in France: Ying Liang's "When Night Falls" and a documentary by the journalist Anne Loussouarn called "Chinese Anger."

The exile writer Liao Yiwu, the Berlin International Literature Festival and a group of well-known international authors have issued a joint appeal for public readings on 4 June in support of Li Bifeng, a writer who was given a 12-year jail sentence in November 2012.

They would like people to read from works by Li Bifeng or works links to his fate, or the works of Liao Yiwu, which are censored in China.

China is on the Reporters Without Borders list of "Enemies of the Internet" and is ranked 173rd out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

China is also mentioned in the 2013 special report on surveillance: "Enemies of the Internet" - China.

What other IFEX members are saying
  • China: New leadership should address Tiananmen legacy

    "Chinese leaders continue to try to simply expunge Tiananmen from the history books. But the new leadership can choose to act differently and distinguish itself from its predecessors. A good start would be to ensure that family members and activists can commemorate the events of 1989 without fear of reprisals."

  • China's government still mute on Tiananmen

    China has been working hard to crush attempts to commemorate the anniversary - both on and offline. Dozens of police officers have blocked the gates to the Wanan cemetery where victims of the massacres are buried, visited annually by the Tiananmen Mothers . . . [Moreover] 4 June has been declared "Internet maintenance day" - where the authorities darken sites in the name of "maintenance".

  • Erasing the past: Chinese censorship in action

    By phonetically spelling out words using characters of the Latin alphabet, developing code words for events and disguising their posts on social media outlets by using homonyms, Chinese citizens have often managed to stave off, at least temporarily, official censors in their quest to be heard.

  • A poor defense of censorship on Tiananmen anniversary

    On 4 June 2013, a Chinese state-run newspaper ran a piece justifying censorship of the Web by citing recent attempts at media regulation abroad.

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