Zoom Suspends US-Based Chinese Activists’ Account After Tiananmen Square Anniversary Event

Zoom temporarily suspended Chinese activists holding an event to commemorate the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.
Zoom Suspends US-Based Chinese Activists’ Account After Tiananmen Square Anniversary Event
Zoom's headquarters in San Jose, Calif., in a file photo. (Shutterstock)
Isabel van Brugen

Video-conferencing app Zoom temporarily suspended the account of a group of U.S.-based Chinese activists just over a week after they used the platform to hold an event to commemorate the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

The three-hour event, hosted on May 31 by Humanitarian China via a paid account on the video-conferencing platform, was joined by over 250 people worldwide, the activists said in a statement.

Held to mark the 31-year anniversary of the June 4 crackdown, the conference was also streamed on social media by more than 4,000 people, many of whom were from China.

The account was then shut down on the evening of June 7, and multiple attempts to log back into the account were unsuccessful, Humanitarian China said in a statement Wednesday, noting that Zoom has so far declined to explain why the account was shut down.

The 1989 pro-democracy protests that were brutally suppressed by the Chinese regime are a taboo subject in mainland China. The regime routinely blocks or censors content related to the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Zoom, which can be accessed from within China without a VPN, confirmed the U.S.-based account had been suspended but had now been reactivated. It claimed the account was shut down because people who participated in the event from China had violated “local laws.”

“When a meeting is held across different countries, the participants within those countries are required to comply with their respective local laws,” it said in an emailed statement.

“We aim to limit the actions we take to those necessary to comply with local law and continuously review and improve our process on these matters.”

It is not clear why Zoom reactivated the account on Wednesday.

Humanitarian China said in a statement that the platform was essential for reaching Chinese audiences “remembering and commemorating Tiananmen Massacre during the coronavirus pandemic.”

The move has raised concerns that the U.S. company behind the video-conferencing app has bowed to pressure from Beijing.

“It seems possible Zoom acted on pressure from the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) to shut down our account. If so, Zoom is complicit in erasing the memories of the Tiananmen massacre in collaboration with an authoritarian government,” Humanitarian China co-founder Zhou Fengsuo said in a statement.

Zoom, which has exploded in popularity amid the CCP virus pandemic as millions of Americans work from home, has also recently drawn scrutiny over privacy and security concerns.

The U.S.-based company owns three companies in China that develop its software, and in April, watchdog group Citizen Lab found after examining Zoom’s encryption that keys for encrypting and decrypting meetings were “transmitted to servers in Beijing.”

Taiwan’s government also banned official use of the platform on April 7 citing “security concerns,” which marked the first time a government had imposed a formal action against the company.

U.S. nonprofit literary group PEN America condemned Zoom’s decision to suspend the group’s account.

“Zoom portends to be the platform of choice for companies, school systems, and a wide range of organizations that need a virtual way to communicate, especially amid global lockdown,” the group’s CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement Wednesday. “But it can’t serve that role and act as the long arm of the Chinese government.”
Frank Fang and Reuters contributed to this report.
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
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