On Sept. 30, in a continuation of its draconian censorship and internet control policies, authorities in Beijing blocked access to a website constructed to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre. No one from Hong Kong or the mainland can access the site without using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
The now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (The Alliance) launched the website, 8964museum.com, in early August, and it’s been operated independently by an “offshore team” led by Chang Ping, a Chinese journalist in exile in Germany, ever since.
The online museum aims to share stories and events concerning the Tiananmen Square massacre that occurred on June 4, 1989. The site details the events up to and including the massacre.
The museum consists of six pages titled “Time,” “Space,” “Personage,” “Hong Kong,” “Media,” and “Literature and Arts,” each filled with files, images, descriptions and even animations concerning the events that transpired.
It was initially funded by The Alliance, but the group had to cease financial support to avoid complications from officials. Before its launch, developers secured approximately HK$1.68 million (US$215,735) by crowdfunding to develop the website and physical museum just before the national security law (NSL) in Hong Kong was passed into law in June 2020.
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The blocking of the online museum came after a raid by Hong Kong police on a physical museum — the June 4th Museum — commemorating the same events two weeks prior. Officers were caught on scene carrying exhibits out of the June 4th Museum, while four members of the Hong Kong Alliance were arrested.
Users in Hong Kong, as well as reporters from Nikkei in the city, are unable to access the website through the network providers PCCW, Smartone and China Mobile Hong Kong since Thursday. Using a VPN or a change in the domain name system (DNS) would be the only reliable methods to access the website.
The PCCW have declined to comment about the restricted access, while Smartone and China Mobile Hong Kong provided no response to inquiries.
Chang Ping said, “If the website is blocked, the right to freedom of information of Hong Kong people and all other people related to the museum will be violated. We believe that this is a disgraceful act to erase historical memory.”
According to The Alliance’s liquidator, Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, he was asked to sign a document provided by the police, which said that there were “reasonable grounds to suspect” that the museum area was an “offense related property.” The Alliance’s assets in several banks, including the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), Hang Seng Bank and Bank of East Asia, were frozen.
Hong Kong police had no comment on the cases, but they maintained that “police may require service providers to take actions to prohibit electronic messages posted on electronic platforms that are likely to endanger national security.”
Hong Kong National Security Law
In June, 2020, the communist government in Beijing enacted The National Security Law (NSL) for the city of Hong Kong, which was signed by the leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Xi Jinping, and adopted by Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam.
The law was enacted following a series of pro-democracy demonstrations that stormed the city in 2019, resulting in extreme police action against the citizens and those suspected of conspiracy against Beijing.
Hong Kong authorities have continued to deny curbing human rights and freedoms, claiming that the law was used based on evidence and not the “background, profession or political beliefs” of the supposed offenders.
Among those arrested included Alliance leaders Albert Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan, who are now incarcerated over their involvement in the protests and are facing national security charges.
The NSL was also used to block another website, HKChronicles, in January. The website contained information on anti-government protests, as well as data on the police force and its supporters.
Tiananmen Square massacre
Years before the British handed control of Hong Kong over to the CCP, mass protests erupted in Tiananmen Square on June 4th, 1989.
The protests were inspired after the death of politician Hu Yaobang, who oversaw economic and political change on the mainland.
The protests were brutally crushed by the CCP’s army when martial law was declared in Beijing, resulting in mass arrests and deaths among the people.
The famous scene of an unnamed man carrying two shopping bags while facing down a line of Chinese tanks cemented itself in world history as a glimpse into the communist party’s destructive response to the protests. To this day, the man has never been identified.
While the death toll of the Tiananmen Square massacre has never been officially confirmed, it is estimated by rights groups and witnesses that thousands may have perished in the crackdown. Documents revealing a diplomatic cable from the former British Ambassador to China in 2017 estimated that around 10,000 had died.