China Blocks Activist Website Post-Earthquake

By: amina on 16 June 2008
Posted in China, Asia

Those who were hopeful that the seeming opening of China’s media channels after the Sichuan earthquake heralded new openness overall will be disappointed to learn that the Chinese government has blocked a democratic activist group’s new website.

Human Rights in China (HRIC) reports that the Chinese government blocked the website of the Tiananmen Mothers within hours of its launch. The group seeks justice for family members of individuals who were victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre – the bloody military crackdown by the Chinese army, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of protestors in June 1989.

This case of state control is not surprising, as China’s media and censorship laws are some of the staunchest in the world. However, this action comes only days after Chinese officials announced that they would allow an online debate to discuss the earthquake in Sichuan - an outlet through which parents expressed outrage, censuring the government because a number of schools in the area collapsed due to poor infrastructure planning. The Associated Press reported that government officials fielded questions from critical bloggers and other Internet users, an uncharacteristic move for the Chinese government, which generally remains tight-lipped concerning its faults.

So why censor one of these groups and not the other? After all, at the outset both groups seem fairly similar: family members challenging the government and seeking justice for their loved ones. However, the Sichuan earthquake came at a time in which the government was already coming under intense pressure from the international community for the situation in Tibet, threatening the country’s host position for the upcoming summer Olympics in Beijing. In effect, the quake shook the country in more ways than one—recognizing that denying citizens the right to adequately express their mourning and anger, the government loosened its grip on domestic media.

But blocking the Tiananmen Mothers website shows firmly that the government intends to continue controlling such content. Ultimately, China’s move to block the Tiananmen Mothers website days after its initiative to increase dialogue between officials and citizens is contradictory – making its supposed “progress” in transparency appear to be little more than a PR stunt to keep people satisfied. As HRIC’s Executive Director Sharon Hom states, “If the authorities continue to cover up the truth of the events of 19 years ago, how can the international community trust in official reports on the Sichuan earthquake, or the government’s human rights and Olympics promises?”