BEIJING (USA Today) — The Tiananmen Square protests 25 years ago remain a thoroughly banned topic in China. But the Communist-led authorities who ordered their brutal suppression are taking no chances on the eve of the June 4th anniversary.
The number of armed police and other security personnel on all roads leading to the square in central Beijing has been increased in recent weeks, which reflects both a more visible counter-terrorism strategy, and also a desire to prevent street protests, say activists.
Dozens of government critics and relatives of people killed in 1989 have been detained and harassed over the past two months in a security crackdown that activists consider the most extensive since the massacre a quarter of a century ago. Government censors, and website editors mindful of the imperative to self-censor, keep the Internet clear of all references to the seven-week long democracy movement in 1989, which took place in many cities across China.
In recent days, Google services have experienced significant disruption in China, GreatFire.org, a censorship watchdog, reported Monday. Google sites were inaccessible or much slower than usual. China blocks many overseas websites, especially those with the capacity to spread information quickly or enable citizens to organize, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The Wall Street Journal said its English- and Chinese-language websites have been blocked since Saturday.
Chinese authorities' tight control of information means most citizens have little to no knowledge of the events of 1989, while those that do remember dare not recall or commemorate the ill-fated "Beijing Spring" that ended with a military crackdown, and hundreds killed, in the streets of the Chinese capital.
Detentions, disappearances and intimidation have mostly silenced China's small band of outspoken critics, including human rights lawyers, dissidents and mothers of students killed by army bullets. Since the end of April, there have been 38 criminal detentions, one confirmed arrest, five administrative detentions, and at least one disappearance. Many more "soft detentions" have also taken place, according to China Human Rights Defenders, a rights group based in Hong Kong.
The administration of Xi Jinping, the Communist Party leader, continues the Party's "systematic denial of accountability for its gross human rights violations," said the group, citing the Party's enforced silence and information blockade on the 1959-61 famine, the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution and repressive measures in Tibet.
Chinese media are forbidden from mentioning the 1989 democracy movement. Last week, Beijing police called several foreign journalists from TV stations and news agencies to warn them not to report from the square, or risk problems with their work visas. Such intimidation is a clear but far from unprecedented violation of the Chinese government's repeated claims to guarantee freedom to foreign journalists to conduct reporting work in China.
To keep media busy on important but safer topics, China's State Council, or "cabinet," announced this week two press conferences to be held Wednesday morning and afternoon on the environment and housing issues.
Hu Jia, 40, a human rights activist under house arrest for the past three months, said this year's crackdown is the longest ever. The dramatic increase in armed security patrols in public places in many cities comes in response to recent acts of terrorism in China, "but the authorities use the terror attacks as an excuse, as the measures are not just against terrorism, but against any mass street action by citizens," said Hu.
This self-declared "man of action" is physically prevented from leaving home, but uses software to evade China's Internet restrictions and wage an online campaign urging citizens to mark Wednesday's anniversary by visiting the square wearing black clothes.
The government devotes a "shocking" amount of financial and human resources to monitoring and harassing the small group of people who dare to remember Tiananmen, said Louisa Lim, author of the book, China: The People's Republic of Amnesia, to be published June 4.
Each year, the Tiananmen Mothers, a much-harassed support group, suffer lengthy negotiation with police and various other arms of the security apparatus over how and whether they can mourn their dead, said Lim. "The Tiananmen Mothers are diminishing in number as time goes on and they get older, yet there is this extraordinary effort to stop them from such innocuous activities as mourning their own children," she said.