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China Blocking Internet Services as Tiananmen Anniversary Nears

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In 1989, pro-democracy students, intellectuals, and activists began staging protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, culminating on June when the Chinese government sent in tanks to break up the protests…an action which led to photographer Jeff Widener‘s world-famous "Tank Man" image of an unknown, unarmed man halting a column of four tanks simply by standing in front of them and refusing to move. The number of civilians and protesters killed or injured in the crackdown is still unknown, but some estimates rise into the thousands.

As the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Chinese government has begun clamping down on access to popular Internet services in an apparent effort to quell memorials, protests, or any rekindling of the pro-democracy and anti-government sentiments that led up to 100,000 Chinese to gather at Tiananmen Square in the first place. Microsoft and Yahoo have confirmed that access to Flickr, Hotmail, and even Microsoft’s new Internet search service Bing have been blocked by the Chinese government, and reports have access to microblogging service Twitter shut down as well.

Internet-savvy Chinese have become long-accustomed to circumventing China’s Internet censorship regime through proxy servers, VPNs, and other services that bypass the government’s typical filtering mechanism, although it’s always a cat-and-mouse game as the government filtering operation routinely blocks access to proxies as they’re discovered.

China runs the most sophisticated and widespread Internet filtering and censorship operation on the planet, routinely blocking access to information about topics like the Tibet liberation movement, the Falun Gong, pro-democracy actions, and sites critical of the Chinese government—such as the BBC and even Wikipedia. China has also used records from U.S. companies like Yahoo and Microsoft doing business in China to jail bloggers and other dissidents advocating for democracy and human rights in the country.

[Photo by Jeff Widener (The Associated Press).]