BEIJING: China’s state censors on Thursday scrubbed the Internet of references to commemorations of the Tiananmen crackdown including a huge vigil in Hong Kong, extending a campaign of repression that has seen dozens of critics detained.
Organizers said a record 180,000 people filled Hong Kong’s Victoria Park for Wednesday night’s gathering, the only major commemoration on Chinese territory of the 25th anniversary of the events of June 4, 1989.
The assault on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing, during which hundreds of unarmed civilians—by some estimates, more than 1,000—were killed, remains highly sensitive in the Communist nation.
It forbids public discussion of the military’s brutal suppression of the demonstrations, and dozens of individuals, among them human rights campaigners, lawyers and journalists were detained ahead of the anniversary.
Five, including celebrated human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, were held on criminal charges last month after taking part in a private seminar about the crackdown.
Two of the group—writer Hu Shigen and academic Xu Youyu— were released on bail on Thursday afternoon, dissident Hu Jia said, citing associates. A third detainee —writer Liu Di—has also been released, her father said.
In mainland China’s state-run media there were few references to the events of 1989 and none to the Hong Kong candlelight vigil which made world headlines, with images of the southern city’s Victoria Park turned into a sea of twinkling lights.
China also hit back at a call from the US for it to account for those killed, detained or missing in the crackdown, accusing Washington of blaming its government “for no reason.”
Internet censorship was already tightened ahead of the anniversary, with searches for the date “6.4” and similar terms blocked by Sina Weibo, a Chinese alternative to Twitter, and on popular search engines.
Under pressure from authorities, Chinese social networks quickly deleted any perceived references to the crackdown, banning terms including “Tiananmen,” “student movement”, “6/4” and “25th anniversary.”
Following the vigil, the list of blocked search terms expanded to include “Victoria Park,” “candlelight,” and “Teng Biao,” the name of a leading Chinese human rights lawyer who delivered a blistering critique of Beijing in the park.
Users who attempted to search for any of the blocked terms were greeted with a message explaining that results were not displayed “in accordance with relevant laws, regulations and policies.”
Hong Kong has held an annual remembrance of the Tiananmen crackdown since 1989, and Wednesday’s vigil was the largest ever, according to organizers. Police put the turnout at 99,500—nearly twice as many as their estimate last year.
Under the agreement governing Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997, the semi-autonomous city has far greater civil liberties than the mainland.