Zoom suspends without warning paid account of US-based Chinese activists


Video conferencing app Zoom suspended without warning or explanation, the accounts of U.S.-based Chinese activists who held a virtual meeting to mark the anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown.

The Humanitarian China video meeting, held on May 31, was meant to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the massacre, which is usually observed on June 04. Numerous people who dialed in to the virtual event were from within China.

The group used Zoom to connect more than 250 people to remember Beijing’s crushing of the peaceful pro-democracy protests in which thousands of participants were killed.

A week later, on June 07, the host’s paid Zoom account was shut down without explanation. Zoom said the account had been closed to comply with “local laws”. It was reactivated again on Wednesday.

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

“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,” the statement said.

Zoom, which has seen a sudden and massive increase in users because of coronavirus lockdowns, was already facing heightened scrutiny over its security and privacy measures. Among the problems was so-called “Zoombombing” – where uninvited guests hack into meetings, sometimes posting racist, abusive or explicit content.

According to a report in the South China Morning Post, the speakers included the mother of a slain protester, a Beijing resident imprisoned 17 years for his participation, and several student leaders who had been exiled.

“The event marked the first time so many high-profile figures with direct ties to the 1989 pro-democracy movement had come together in one space,” Zhou Fengsuo, the president of Humanitarian China, who was himself a student leader at the Tiananmen protests, told the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

“We had to keep it secret,” he said.

Humanitarian China’s Zoom account was shut down on June 07, the group said. “I’m very angry that even in this country, in the United States … we have to be prepared for this kind of censorship,” Mr. Zhou told SCMP.

Another Tiananmen activist said he had been locked out of Zoom since May 22 when he tried to host an online discussion on China’s influence around the world. Lee Cheuk-yan told the AFP news agency that his account was suspended before the talk started.

“I asked Zoom whether this is political censorship but it has never replied to me,” said Mr. Lee, who is chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance – the organiser of Hong Kong’s annual vigil for the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown.

He said the group had held two previous talks on Zoom with no issues.

The anniversary of the crackdown is a highly sensitive matter in China – arguably the most sensitive day of the year for China’s internet. Content related to the anniversary is frequently blocked or censored. Reporting on the event is also heavily censored in China. (Source: BBC)