Zoom Says Chinese Regime Demanded It Shutdown Activists’ Accounts Over Tiananmen Square Anniversary Events

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
June 12, 2020Updated: June 12, 2020

Video-conferencing app Zoom confirmed Thursday that the Chinese regime demanded it suspend the accounts of several U.S. and Hong Kong-based Chinese activists who used the platform to hold events commemorating the 31st anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

In a public statement issued Thursday, the U.S.-based company admitted that it shut down three accounts—two in the United States and one in Hong Kong—after the Chinese regime notified them of four large public June 4th commemoration events, saying that participating in the events is considered “illegal in China.”

“The Chinese government informed us that this activity is illegal in China and demanded that Zoom terminate the meetings and host accounts,” Zoom said.

The company said it did not provide any user information or meeting content to the Chinese communist regime and that it would not allow further requests from China to impact users outside the country.

The company behind the platform, which can be accessed from within China without a VPN, said it chose not to suspend the account behind one of the events “because it did not have any participants from mainland China.”

“Zoom does not currently have the ability to remove specific participants from a meeting or block participants from a certain country from joining a meeting,” the statement reads. “As such, we made the decision to end three of the four meetings, and suspended or terminated the host accounts associated with the three meetings.”

It comes after a group of U.S.-based activists, Humanitarian China, on Wednesday said that Zoom suspended their account just over a week after they used the platform to hold a three-hour event with a paid account.

The event on May 31 was joined by over 250 people worldwide, and 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.

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 on Thursday said 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.”

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

The latest statement from the U.S.-based company, which owns three companies in China that develop its software, underscores concerns that it has bowed to pressure from Beijing.

Humanitarian China co-founder Zhou Fengsuo said on Wednesday that if Zoom “acted on pressure from the CCP (Chinese Communist Party)” to suspend their account, it is “complicit in erasing the memories of the Tiananmen massacre in collaboration with an authoritarian government.”

Zoom admitted that it had made “two mistakes” in suspending or terminating the three host accounts, and shutting down meetings instead of blocking participants by country. It said that all three accounts have since been reinstated.

“Going forward Zoom will not allow requests from the Chinese government to impact anyone outside of mainland China,” Zoom said. “We hope that one day, governments who build barriers to disconnect their people from the world and each other will recognize that they are acting against their own interests, as well as the rights of their citizens and all humanity.”

A woman enjoys a virtual happy hour during the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis in Arlington, Virginia, on April 8, 2020. (OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

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.

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 has imposed a formal action against the company.