Security at new heights on eve of China's Tiananmen anniversary

Arrests and detentions are up, and security officials have at times barred tourists from the square. June 4 is also 'Internet maintenance day,' with many sites being taken down for 'fixes.'

Petar Kujundzic/Reuters
Paramilitary policemen stand guard at the Monument to the People's Heroes at Tiananmen Square near the Great Hall of the People, ahead of the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy protests, in Beijing, June 3, 2014. In 1989, Chinese authorities killed hundreds, and by some accounts, thousands, of unarmed students and protesters calling for democratic reform and accountability from government leaders.

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On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, China is going to new lengths to head off protest and remembrance related to the searing event.

In 1989, Chinese authorities killed hundreds, and by some accounts, thousands, of unarmed students and protesters calling for democratic reform and accountability from government leaders.

Government control and interference is evident every year around the anniversary. China has referred to June 4 as “Internet maintenance day,” taking so many sites down for “fixes” that it is unclear which sites are being targeted with restrictions, reports The Washington Post.

But this year, the crackdown has reached new levels.

Amnesty International reports arrests and detentions have been on the rise. Scores of activists, lawyers, students, academics, and relatives of those killed in 1989 have been detained, put under house arrest, or questioned, reports Time. Security around the public square has been so strict that tourists have had security officials bar them from the grounds, reports Time.

Google services – including Gmail and translation services ­– have been interrupted since late last week, reports Bloomberg.

The Tiananmen anniversary poses the biggest challenge yet to efforts by President Xi Jinping to police dissent more actively in a nation with 618 million Web users. Tighter controls reflect a strategic shift toward using the Internet to shape public opinion and curtail unrest while also championing the emergence of a homegrown technology industry …

On Sunday, Guo Jian, a prominent Chinese-Australian artist who participated in the 1989 protest, was taken in for questioning and told he would be held for 15 days, reports CNN. The artist's work includes a model of Tiananmen Square covered in ground pork.

The media are a particular target. William Nee, Amnesty International’s China researcher, said that “The intimidation of journalists and their contacts shows the deplorable lengths the authorities are prepared to go in their efforts to wipe the bloodshed of 1989 from memory."

"However," he adds, "the world remembers. People will continue to mark the anniversary despite the authorities’ efforts.”

China's unyielding attitude, however, was underscored by Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, who said in a press briefing today that "In China there are only law breakers – there are no so-called dissidents." 

He told reporters that the country chose the right path for its people 25 years ago, stating that the "Chinese government long ago reached a conclusion about the political turmoil at the end of the 1980s," Reuters reports.

"It can be said that the road to socialism with Chinese characteristics which we follow today accords with China's national condition and the basic interests of the vast majority of China's people, which is the aspiration of all China's people."

Time reports that "the long news blackout" about Tiananmen has left many Chinese unaware of the events of 1989, and thus the reason behind the slow Internet or heightened police presence near Tiananmen Square is a “mystery.” But young Chinese, who may know little about the history and meaning behind the June 4 massacre, have more in common with their 1989 counterparts than one might realize, Time reports:

Amid the revolutionary spasms in other parts of the world, there lingers an assumption that China’s youth are apolitical. The post-Tiananmen generation is supposed to have been diverted by brand-name purses and sleek gadgets from caring about the state of the nation. The long news blackout on the slaughter further blunted their ideological development. True, the heady atmosphere of that Beijing Spring 25 years ago—when students bandied about grand political notions and debated policy with top party leaders—has dissipated. But the building blocks of democracy—accountability, transparency, a balance of power—are still deeply relevant today. None of the specific issues that motivated the 1989 crowds, such as endemic corruption or officials’ unwillingness to disclose their assets, has been resolved, despite campaigns like [President] Xi’s latest antigraft efforts. A slowing economy—China can no longer attain the 8% and above growth rates of yesteryear—only tips the balance of unease further.

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